The Haunting Call of Home

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Yet hints come to me from the realm unknown;

Airs drift across the twilight border land,

Odoured with life; and as from some far strand

Sea-murmured, whispers to my heart are blown

That fill me with a joy I cannot speak

– George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul.

It has been with me ever since my first memories. It was behind the feeling of mystery and wonder which came over me in childhood, as I stared wide-eyed at the book which had pictures of beautiful places, animals, and adventures. It was in the subtle but deep and inexplicable ache as I watched the hawk fly in the bleached summer sky above. It brought me to a state of reverent quietness as I listened to the owls call to each other as the darkness descended upon the hushed street of my childhood home. It made me hold my breath with awe as I watched the bee-eaters flying high in the sky, or the praying mantis swaying back and forth under the porch light, or the elusive marten, hated by chicken-owners and loved only by me, which occasionally slipped from the darkness of a neighbour`s roof and quickly disappeared back into it, leaving me spellbound, aching and longing for some unnamed, ancient mystery.

I want to tell you a story.

It was a Sunday night. It was dark outside, and all was quiet. As I sat in the darkness of the balcony, I pulled my phone out of my pocket, and turned on the music player. The first session of a series of lectures began. Ready to relax and absorb more knowledge, I sat back, looking toward the darkness of the garden. Our pet rabbit peeped at me from its ‘house’, the boundaries of which reached up to about a third from the balcony. No, I had not brought any rabbit food. Only soul-food. For myself.

Before I continue, I must confess to you that the practice of stillness is one of the most difficult exercises for me. Indeed, when I force myself to leave behind everything else which prevents me from being still, things like books, music, or the talks which I always keep handy, rarely if ever leave my side. It is really a small wonder that my mind rarely, if ever feels fully at peace. I have lived so long in the world of constant activity, that nothing else feels normal, much less comfortable.

An hour went by. As I listened in silence, I caught myself glancing up toward the sky more and more often. The moon, veiled by the ragged cloak of clouds, illuminated everything around me with a pale, ghostly light. Ducks flew somewhere up there, quacking as they followed each other in the dark sky. A fox rustled through the bushes in the dark corner of the green space before me. There was a gentle breeze. And in the pleasantness of the moment, something started to happen. Although my body was already enjoying its rest, my mind was still somewhat stubbornly clinging to its desire for information and busyness. And so for a long time, the lecture I listened to continued to pour into it through my ears. But, from a place far beyond the reach of my ever-hungry, ever-running mind, there came a different message.

You do not need that noise…

Suddenly aware of my self-sabotaging rebellion, I reached out and switched the device off. The emptiness which I had been avoiding and running from ever since my childhood, now seemed interesting, even desirable. And thoughts, new thoughts flew into my suddenly freed mind. What is fear, or craving, or compulsion, but simply a mere lie which once exposed, can only retreat as truth and freedom advances. Let me see what will really happen when I finally let go…

Smells of late summer in the breeze. Sounds of households slowing down and getting ready for the night. Beyond them, the faint sounds of the sea. Bright, round moon, generously smiling through the thinning fabric of fast-moving clouds. Memories, rising up to life in places long forgotten. Timeless shadows of the lush greenness which once surrounded me and surrounds me still. Peace and pleasure. And..a sigh. A sigh of a heart that has long been toiling, labouring without reward under a cruel taskmaster…me. Repentance…and forgiveness. And then, as my mind finally let its guard down and lay still, as my body`s every muscle softened and my eyes feasted upon the beauty of the majestic sky, I began to hear. I am not certain whether my ears had become more attuned to the world around me, or the noises were somewhat louder. Perhaps both things had happened at once. I heard soft smacking sounds of an animal eating. When I slowly looked down, I saw a hedgehog, eating something on the grass below. Judging by the sounds, the meal was a delicious one. I had never before seen a hedgehog in our area, let alone a glutton such as this one, and my stirred heart leapt with joy and amazement. The sounds of the feasting hedgehog drifted to me at the same time as I began to hear the other sounds – the familiar crunching which came from the dark, furry shape of our beloved rabbit that stood in front of its little bungalow, chewing on the food left there for it. Two animals, a domestic one and a wild one, lived, breathed, and ate their food very close to me, totally oblivious to me and each other. Another sigh left my chest as I sat and listened in silence, in the company of the royal, beaming  moon. Foxes moved in the darkness of the bushes. The eerie moonlight set everything in sight ablaze with a white, eternal flame. In that moment my heart, temporarily freed from the cruelty of my hard-working mind, was touched and awakened by some old, undying love. This was the call which I had often heard all those years ago when I was only a little child. This was the haunting which had dogged my heels as I strove to find the meaning of life in my youth, when even in my search, I always remained haunted by an unknown sweetness which called to me but never made itself known. The call was there even later, when I tried to numb the pain of loss, rejection, and despair with pleasures in a vain search for intimacy, fueled by alcohol, drugs and a desperate desire to escape the sadness which filled my soul. It was this call which I had finally responded to as I bent my will and risked everything, opening my heart to a wild, new and unknown Life on that hot and dusty day in Zambia.

You see…nothing is lost…

No, nothing is lost if we, at some point of our journey, choose to lose what we see as ourselves for the sake of the yet unknown truth. As I sat in awe, present to my heart, present to the wonders of nature around me, and to the Author of it all, I was once again soaked in the eternity which has been calling to me ever since I came into the world.

Home was calling to me again.

Homesickness

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I had a strange dream last night. Two eagles soared above a wooded hill. It was just this – the eagles, the sky, and the hill, which I had no trouble recognising even in my dream. This, and so much more…

But I had always thought that eagles no longer lived there…they had always been a rare sight to begin with. What could this possibly mean?

I think that, ever since I can remember, I always knew that I had a home. I belonged. The house where I grew up, the street where I played, the village which witnessed my transformation and passing from one season of life into another – this little world, which was once so big, was home. It was everything to me.

But I do not think now that it really was everything, but rather, a door to that everything which I was born desiring. As hungry as I was in my first days to see, feel, and explore the mysteries around me, I somehow knew, even then, that there was more to life, that the world around me hid secrets which surpassed even the ones which unfolded before me each day as I discovered them. The dance of the butterflies in the vast prairie which was our back garden, the flight of the swallows in the heat of the summer day, the cry of the owls which called to each other in the stillness of the night – it all whispered to me of a reality which, though mysterious and fascinating, filled me with some unknown longing to know, see, and touch something which it could not offer.

I am a man now, and I have a family. I live far away from the place where once such magic took place. Indeed, when one grows up, if one is fortunate enough to have kept in touch with the young and tender places within, one could easily (and mistakenly) start thinking that the beautiful mysteries of the childhood home, the sweet harmony of the simple life, and the old friends, are indeed what one needs, and longs for. It is very likely then, as I myself know only too well, that nostalgia, sorrow, and depression will slowly creep in as thieves, each one making a way for the next, and steal the joy of the later years. In such conditions, especially if change never comes, I myself would prefer to be a selfish fool, a parasite even, living only for pleasures, rather than being a whole-hearted man who groans daily under the unseen and unbearable burden of the lost years.

‘If only I can be there again,’ sighs the heart, devastated by the pain with which abounds even in the happiest human life.

The best moments of our life call to us, whisper to us, and, as those fools we sometimes are, we rush in and, unable to restore the past, and unwilling to listen to what it tells us, we seek to recreate it as best we know how. I do not need to tell you what your ways of recreation and escape are – if you are reading this, you are probably already thinking, or have thought about them. This is normal. It is to be expected. ‘Everybody has a hungry heart,’ sings Bruce Springsteen, and boy, is he right.

When I dream of things forgotten, or remind myself of what has once been mine, I cannot help but desire to return there. My own little heaven. My home. I have indeed, lived many years under the heavy cloud of the sorrow which comes when the soul realises that it would never be filled. Fortunately, things are different now, at least in terms of perspective. And I can now remember far more than I did when my soul was blinded by its hunger. I remember how, even in the best of days, my longings and appetites were never really sated, back in that heavenly place. I remember how the smells, the view, and creatures which moved mysteriously before my eyes, did little to quiet the my groaning young heart, but only increased its sweet torment. I will never forget…

The first bright, warm rays of sunshine which penetrated the room with laser-like sharpness during the summer vacation. The cool, pleasant feeling of the water around my bare feet during the endless days of fishing in the river. The heavy, thick blanket of snow, covering the hushed village late in the night, whispering of the joy which always came with the Christmas season. The friendly street which never felt less home than home itself, since it never forced one`s heart to shrink a little and tense up in a way that it does when one lives in the city, surrounded by strangers. Old stories which, even though speaking of wild and daring deeds, whispered their ancient assurance of the blessed peace which now reigned, and will reign forever. A world, made to endure, like Tolkien`s Shire. My paradise. My home.

Yet, I can now be honest enough to admit that there was something missing, even in that paradise, even before the darkness, the confusion, the violence, and the search for pleasures consumed the years of my youth…yes, even in the sacred innocence of my childhood, something was missing in the world around me. As I grew up and searched, in darkness, and in light, this sense, the feeling that something was missing did not go away.

No, I did not have a real home, not even then, when wonder, joy, and amazement filled my days. I had a home, and a good home it was, but I was nonetheless, homesick.

Where have you searched for your home…?

Do you, like me, sometimes find yourself travelling hundreds, even thousands of miles, to arrive home, only to discover that even there, in that holy place, you are still…homesick? Isn`t our home then, only a door through which we can catch a glimpse of the home we were born desiring? Are we maybe so out of touch with the true reality, like a drunk man who struggles to recognise the faces of his own family? yes, I think we are…we all are. Something has happened to our race, a dark veil has been cast over our planet, and we can now see only a faint shadow of what we are, and what we desire. But this does not make the object of our desire less real. No, but our dearest, precious, most sacred memories, people, places, and events, are telling us something about it. They whisper of our true home, but they themselves are, as C.S.Lewis put it ‘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.’

The eagles will soar again.