We’re driving to Mount Evans, Colo., on the highest roadway in North America when it hits me: I’m homesick.
This is backward, of course, because Colorado is my home state and Kansas my reluctantly adopted current state. I should be feeling homesick in Kansas, not among the pines and aspens in some of the prettiest country in the world.
It’s no coincidence that—to avoid looking out the window at the sheer guardrail-free drop off to my left—I am reading Rod Dreher’s The Little Way of Ruthie Leming (and crying behind my sunglasses), which is, among other things, a story about homecoming. Dreher is a typical American, meaning he left home after high school and moved around a lot. Over the course of his story (no spoilers here), he realizes the value of home, of living in a close-knit community, especially when life gets hard.
Because it will get hard.
Here I am right in the middle of what’s supposed to be home and missing my blue house on the prairie where temperatures this time of year are miserable. What has happened to me?
It’s also no coincidence that last week I finished rereading Frederick Buechner’s book of sermons, Secrets in the Dark. In a chapter titled “Longing for Home,” he ponders what home means and why it is that, years after we’ve left a place, we long for home the rest of our lives.
What is this deep hunger really for? Why is it that even if/when we return to what each of us considers home, it doesn’t quite fit the bill, the magical expectation of yesteryear where days were longer, nights more star-filled, dreams more vivid, food tastier?
Buechner, who articulates this longing better than anyone I’ve read, concludes it is because our true homeland is Christ and any “home” other than Him will disappoint.
Dreher admits this, and anyone who’s lived in a small town knows it, too. Small towns, small communities, even small groups at church can be wonderful, safe places where friends bring chicken potpies to the sick and you don’t have to beg to get a babysitter. But living in community is also hard. With closeness comes gossip, pigeonholing, assumptions, busybodyness, and a host of other potential problems. Life together, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls it, is nothing if not messy. But when tragedy strikes, it is a salvation. As Dreher writes, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”
This morning a small community in Morrill, Maine—the place in this world that, for me, most closely approaches the meanings of both heaven and home—will be leaning hard on each other following the death of one of their beloved lifelong residents. My cousin Rowena was what some call “good people.” A rock of a woman who left college to nurse her dying mother, annually planted a gigantic garden she watered with leftover dishwater, and brought plates of “biscuit” when weary travelers like myself arrived in town, Rowena epitomized joy. Her life was a hardscrabble one, like many in the backwoods of Maine, but she never left. She knew the value of home and stuck it out there, like her parents and grandparents and great grandparents before her, working and serving wherever she could.
Last night my cousin discovered the reality of what Buechner wrote about and what we on this side of the veil ache for: Home is Christ.
Welcome home, Rowena.