I dread holiday’s end. A day or two before we leave I begin to see each familiar sight with wistful, so-sad eyes. It’s a little pathetic, but I’ve never been able to muster the discipline to shun this annual round of self torment. Following the packing and the fond farewells comes The Drive, an exquisitely tortuous event that combines endless hours of contemplation with irrefutable evidence of the miles that separate holiday and home. Unlike the drive toward a holiday destination, which is a delightful feast of anticipation, the drive home is a joyless musing of fading bliss. Inevitably, during this morbid marathon, my thoughts will arrive at the same unanswerable question: Why, oh why, do we live so far away? With each move over the years we have put more distance between ourselves and our family; and more miles between our home and the beach.
This miserable state of mind has played itself out countless times in the last few decades; and I should have long since conquered my fears. As a Boy Scout I felt the sharp stab of homesickness gnawing within as we trudged endlessly under overgrown rucksacks. And yet, at the very moment the homebound train disgorged its load of sweat-stained, smoke-infused boys at Central Station my emotion would swing to excited thoughts of another bush adventure in the weeks ahead. Some years later as at teenager I used to keep my gaze away from the moon at night, especially a big bright moon, because the knowledge that the same moon was shining in the window’s of my family home was too much to bear!
Much like my former Wolf Cub self (“dib dib dib, dob dob dob” – what on earth did that mean?) I am confident that my mood will improve within a day or so, three at most, and I will become attuned again to the routines of normal life. But for now the sting is sharp – and I have to deal with this irrational need to reverse the flow of time, striving to will myself back into last week’s time and place. It’s a mindset too bizarre to sustain for long: but I find myself sometimes completely unwilling to admit that here is here and now is now; such is my longing for then!
At this strange time of year I often ponder a strong New Testament statement:
From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. Acts 17.
I look there for reassurance about our geographic isolation from family and friends. A simple reading seems to offer exactly that: that our place and our time are divinely given, exactly determined. Or is that too literal, too simple? Is it only a description of the broader pattern of nations and eras through the span of history? In recent years we have moved by force of circumstance, and yet the choices we have made have been our own. Is this family Diaspora God’s will, or my own? It’s Double Agency: the thorny question of when and how an action can be ascribed to more than one agent.
The verse that follows next makes the outcome clear, even if the causes remain oblique:
God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’
Here there is a note of discomfort, of a pebble in the shoe that causes us to search for answers. Scripture is so often the story of wanderers; people who are exiled, or sent, or called, or in other ways placed upon a strange path. With that as our heritage, is it any wonder that we sometimes feel adrift, alone, misplaced?
There is an annual rhythm emerging in my writing; and the uncertainty of the year ahead is no doubt colouring my view. If you think this is bleary, you should read A Donkey’s Take on Unemployment, last year’s back to reality blog. Now that was sad!