Yesterday, I had lunch at one of my favorite Abilene places–Bogie’s on Cypress Street–and as I walked out into the grey afternoon, I strolled past the open door of the adjacent coffee shop. The aroma of brewing espresso waved lazily from inside Monk’s, greeting me soothingly (as the scent of coffee always does), and for a moment, I felt as if I was back on Grafton St. in Dublin, walking past the open doors and patio seating of coffee shops and tea rooms on a cool, misty summer day. I could almost feel the weight of my olive-green backpack pulling at my shoulders, my comfortable walking shoes on my feet and red paving stones beneath them. I could almost see the charming shops, the cathedralesque TI building, the unassuming verdure of St. Stephen’s Green. I was filled with a desire to stop in at Bewley’s for a cup of tea out on the first-floor terrace where I would enjoy the fresh air and watch the tourists mill around below.
And I was led to consider afresh the oddness of feeling homesick for a place in which I have never lived and, I now know, probably never will. Before my first trip to the Emerald Isle, I would not have believed it possible to experience such a sensation. I know differently now.
There was a time in which I felt I would never want to leave Texas for more than a week or so. I thought I could never feel at home somewhere else. I still feel that my roots are here, deep and wide in the red West Texas clay. But I also know that other parts of me–branches, perhaps, to continue the metaphor–have stretched across continents and oceans and now belong to a place where rain is plentiful and sunshine is scarce. And now I will not be surprised to discover that wherever I find myself next year will also claim a piece of me so that I will be stretched hither and yon, keeping a toe-hold on Texas and brushing my fingertips against other places that also mean home.
It is my suspicion that we have, in defining home as a single place, limited the word too much. In fact, defining home in terms of place may be missing the mark in a way, because when we refer to home we are referring less the the physical place than to the way we feel about that place. To say, “I’m going home” after an absence is not so much a spatial journey as it is an emotional journey. But more than that, I suspect that home may not be any place to which I can travel. Home, my heart leads me to believe, is what Adam and Eve lost so long ago–nearness to God, unseparated, uncomplicated, closeness. And the multiplicity of homes I and others have found is, perhaps, like finding shards of that real Home, or maybe like a trail of breadcrumbs left to lead us there.
Or maybe it’s like smelling rich coffee on a cloudy day and remembering strongly and deeply another place. In The Rock that is Higher, Madeleine L’Engle writes,
We are all strangers in a strange land, longing for home, but not quite knowing what or where home is. We glimpse it sometimes in our dreams or as we turn a corner, and suddenly there is a strange, sweet familiarity that vanishes almost as soon as it comes.
And sometimes the sweet familiarity lingers just long enough to make us yearn for Home, and find strength to move nearer to the heart of God.