If you had a few weeks to live, where would you go? Roger Cohen asks this question in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times called “In Search of Home.” He talks about the “landscape of childhood” that place of “unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.”(op-ed April 3,20014 NYTimes)
While the question is hypothetical, Cohen surmises that it is a good question. A way to get beyond all that fills our lives, drilling down to what is truly important.
In the piece he describes what another writer, James Wood, calls “contemporary homelessness.” He says it is perhaps the issue of our time, the state of our world of constant movement, where the immigrant, the refugee, the expat, the third culture kid, the military kid, the military family, the diplomat, the person who moves coast to coast and back again in the same country all live in a place where home is hard to define, harder to feel.
The opinion piece resonated deeply in my soul. Here is a writer who gets it – who understands this dilemma for so many in the modern world. He goes further to say that if you begin to dig deeper into the depression that many experience, so much of it is about not fitting in, not belonging. Again with a gift of words he calls it “displacement anguish.” The essay is similar to what Rachel Pieh Jones expresses in her piece “Saudade – a Song for the Modern Soul.” Rachel quotes from another essay on longing and belonging “I, like many of this era, am a nomad rich with diverse experiences, yet will never be able to collect all of my place and people-specific memories together in one place, in one time.”
Toward the end of the piece, Cohen’s short description of where he would go should he have a few weeks to live had me sitting by a rock pool in an ocean, warm with the sun of Cape Town on my back. He described this place and says there he felt a “Happiness whose other name is home.”
So I ask two questions – where would you go if you had a couple of weeks to live and what do you remember about that place? What beckons you to come and leave the clutter of your life, drilling down to what is truly important?
What is that happiness whose other name is home? Is it the pine trees blowing through Himalayan mountains and the smoke of wood fires at dusk? Is it the dogs barking in the distance and walking on a dusty street when the sound of the call to prayer comes loud across the city? Is it the sound of a lake and voices of children, alive with the joy of innocence? Is it a porch swing, your legs curled up under you, a book in your hand on a lazy summer day? Is it the smell of frying fish as you come back home from a fishing excursion with your grandfather? Is it the lapping of waves on a sandy beach, sand pipers tiptoeing across the sand leaving their distinct marks? Is it a crowded bazaar, where distinct smells and sounds make you feel alive with all the possibilities?
Or is that happiness whose other name is home spiritual? Is is something that can’t be captured in a place?
What is that happiness whose other name is home?
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle
6 thoughts on ““A Happiness Whose Other Name is Home””
I love this mom! And you said exactly what I would expect you to say about last weeks. I think about your life and I never would have thought you would end up in Rochester – but you are amazing examples of adjustment and gratitude, making life count wherever you are. I love you.
Your post provided an interesting thought to me today on Good Friday… a day of sorrow and uncertainty. I spent the beginning part of this week preparing to move into hotel, as our village was out of water and the situation was becoming dire as it increasing got worse. Since I do not own or pay for my accommodation, I am reliant on whatever provisions my company provides for us while repairs were being made. The only thing I’m really in control of is my response and my attitude. I thought many of those who never had access to clean drinking water, or walked long distances for dirty water. I wondered how I could be more informed about being involved in organizations that work towards clean water access for all. Then, I watched a movie about a girl who sailed around the world alone at 14. The power of the ocean moved me, as well as her search to find who she was and where she belonged. Then, our water situation was fixed and the very next day, water again entered our hallways moments, our lunch time and classroom conversations. Here in Jeju, it’s been a very emotional time since learning of the ferry disaster with many South Koreans and those living here grieving. Rescue efforts are still going on, and I find myself thinking about water. What did those students and others on the ship think about what they wanted to do in their last few minutes before they died? Many text messages and expressions of gratitude and love have been reported in media. So… I think that its a reminder to me that the place in which we leave does not so much matter as much as the people. If I had two weeks to live, I would like that place, wherever it might be — to be somewhere close to water. This life giving and life taking water…. surrounded by those whom I love and trust.
This comment deserves it’s own space — thank you. Thank you for bringing up the tragedy of the ferry accident. It is as you say – things like that make you realize it’s not the place, it’s the people. And more and more as I was writing this, plus as I read comments I found myself nodding my head. There’s the rub too. You can be in a place where your physical body feels at home, but if ultimately you don’t share it with those you love than you are still living between worlds. There’s so much more to respond to. But our Pascha (Easter) celebration is at 3am and preparation is calling. Thank you so much for your words.
I would likely spend the first 9 days agonizing over where to go….how would I ever decide??? And then it would be too late to book tickets or get visas….and then I’d be sad and depressed for a few days before I snapped out of it and enjoyed those in my current place and my now circle!
hahahahaha! We are wayyyyy too much alike! I bet you you’re like that with money gifts too – you spend so long agonizing over what and how to spend it that when you finally spend it, it feels almost disappointing! Or maybe I am projecting way too much?!
This longing for “Home” is so implanted into our hearts and minds that it is no wonder that so many people feel alienated in this world. In looking for the quote below, I came across an essay by Michael E. Travers titled “A Far-off Country: A Longing for Heaven in C.S. Lewis’s writings. He analyzes “The Dawn Treader” at length, but refers to many of his books. “The Weight of Glory” and “Surprised by Joy” are two that deal with this extently. Whether we call it nostalgia or Saudade or any other name, it points that “God has put eternity in our hearts” (the Wisdom Writer in Ecclesiastes 3:11) A
The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
“One result of longing for heaven is that we feel a ‘sense of exile’.”
–Also from The Weight of Glory
I think if I knew that I only had a few weeks to live, and if I were able to travel, I would visit as many of our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and other relatives as I could. If I couldn’t travel, I would ask that each of them try to come and have a visit with me. I would know that I am soon going to that HOME I have always longed for, but here on earth my joy is no longer just in a place but in the people I love. I don’t think I would want them all at once, our family has grown to so many with grandchildren married and having their own children. But I would love them in small batches!
This is a great post. Love you much, Marilyn