Why We Long for Home
A couple of months ago my wife, Isabelle, and I traveled to Italy. Starting in Venice, we did a loop hitting Florence, the Tuscan countryside, and Cinque Terre before flying out of Venice again. I was particularly excited about the trip because I grew up there for seven years, spending part of my childhood and adolescence in the small northeast town of Porcia, but hadn’t been back since my family moved to the States about twelve years ago.
Insistent that we stopped there for a couple of days on our way out, I was eager to show Isabelle were I grew up—the house we lived in, my school, the café we used to frequent. Where I played soccer, even. She was thrilled and I knew this might be my only opportunity to connect the dots from what had previously just been stories to her. And yet in my excitement something was stirring in me, too, something else that was driving me.
I think we go through life becoming enchanted and then disenchanted with things. Back and forth, back and forth. There are three areas in which I think this happens most: the longing for story, the longing for lover, and the longing for nature. I want to draw our attention to that first one, the longing for story.
Time and time again we continue to go back to the same stories, either reading them again or watching their film adaptations. But why? It suggests that we want to reenter that world. From Star Wars and Harry Potter, to The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice we are moved in a place where we long for that other world. And threaded within the dominant stories of our time are characters who find themselves longing for home. They long for the place of their birth—that nostalgic longing—and they long for the place that’s to come. Bilbo longs to return to his home seven times in The Hobbit. In Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, we see a scene in which Luke looks out toward the setting of the twin suns of Tatooine, wishing to be someplace else.
But what happens when these characters—when we—finally return home? Things aren’t the same. Bilbo goes back to Hobbiton and he’s been presumed dead and his things are being auctioned. Luke returns after recovering R2-D2 to find his aunt and uncle dead and their home up in smoke. Our stories are similar: familiar buildings are torn down and new ones might even be built in their place. With all the changes we witness, it’s just not home. It’s not what we went back to see.
Isabelle and I finally pulled up to my old house, on a large patch of grass between the house’s gate and the main road, hugged by fields and small stretches of farmland on the other side. I almost drove past it because I didn’t recognize it. But when I saw it something in me withered. What had previously been a warm beige house with brown shutters was now lavender with white trim all over. The front yard where our dog used to roam freely was now divided into two sections, presumably to keep the neighbors’ sides distinct. The horses that used to graze just beyond our fence were no longer there, the wooden beams that kept them in removed.
The months leading up to our trip I had been mourning the lost innocence of youth, and I convinced myself that while life around me was ever-evolving, the thing that would never change was this house. After all, it’s Italy. Everything is the same and old and beautiful. And yet in one moment that came crashing down as I came to terms with the house I once knew now only existing in photographs and when brought back to life in the recounting of memories with my family.
What is it in us that still longs for home? The old place can’t satisfy, but I believe this is an awakening of a desire for our true home: heaven. By heaven I don’t mean a place among the clouds and chubby cherubim with gold harps. Nor do I mean a place lorded over by a god with a long, gray beard like Grandfather Time. I honestly don’t know what I fully mean. But I have ideas of what it will be like: a place and time where there are no more tears, where we are free from fear and worry and insecurity; a place and time where the longings of our hearts are fully and finally satisfied; where the life we look back on feels like a dream and looks thin. We awake, as if for the very first time, to the only home we can ever know. And we finally gaze upon the Morning Sun.