Posted by: 15shekels | September 21, 2009

News from a country we have never yet visited

usb-cd-rock-mini-jukebox“It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. With Americans, it is a national trait, as native to us as the roller-coaster or the jukebox. It is no simple longing for the home town or country of our birth. The emotion is Janus-faced: we are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” -Carson McCullers

Few things compare to the sting of nostalgia. Dwelling on the past calls up pain much sharper than it should be, but pain that stings in a good way. During periods of transition I tend to wallow in nostalgia even more than usual. Lately I have been pining for all of the following, most of which I have experienced, some of which I haven’t: High school (my own and the idea of it), California (Palo Alto and otherwise), Ireland, Europe in general, autumn, New York City, the ages 4-12, the American south, my college years, and that short period of time between when I met Tom and when I realized that he wanted to marry me.

Smells set off this mourning almost as much as songs do. As someone walks by, I catch a whiff of the perfume I wore in high school, or hear a few notes from a college anthem, and I am stopped in my tracks. Remembering specific moments, months, stories, lessons, even painful rejections and breakups, makes me willing to trade anything for just one more day in the past.

It’s not that I wish I were still there, or even that I was happier when I was there. I am undoubtedly the happiest I have ever been. And when, a few times, I have tried to recreate my collegemidtown_skyline_new_york_city experiences by visiting campus with friends, dancing to the same music, in the same places, I can never seem to access that which I miss. It’s like the attempts that I make every time I arrive in New York City, the attempts to capture that glittering thrill that I saw in the skyline as I drove in. I continue to chase those promises, of past college sweetness, of city lights, but again and again I stumble onto mirages.

C.S. Lewis captures most eloquently the sting of nostalgia in his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”:

“[It is] the inconsolable secret in each one of you, the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence…It is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience…Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. 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.”

Lewis argues that this beauty and nostalgia are brief glimpses of the eternal, of the world for which we were created. Those pangs, which we think are for times and places, are actually for the glory and splendor of heaven, and for the world in its restored form. This longing points to something that is as real as it is seemingly inaccessible. How else can we explain a longing that seems unsatisfiable by anything in our present or past? Longing for something doesn’t mean we will get it, but it usually means our object of desire exists:

“Surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will. A man may love a woman and not win her; but it would be very odd if the phenomenon called “falling in love” occurred in a sexless world.” (Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)

The great hope, the great comfort, is that there is a door through which we will stumble onto all for which we have longed. We thirst and thirst, and nothing on this earth satisfies our craving. But:

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'” (John 4: 13-14)

449px-Fountain_of_Eternal_Life_cropAccepting Jesus’s invitation, we are adopted into God’s family and filled with the Holy Spirit. We are then invited to the great party in heaven, where there will be “no more… mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) God himself will wipe away our tears. When the “former things” pass away, I have a hunch we won’t feel nostalgia for them, because we will have finally found the “fountain of joy” as Lewis calls it. I believe that in heaven, we will recognize the glory that on earth we only glimpsed. Most importantly, we will be with Jesus. And in the presence of the most compassionate, loving, beautiful, fun, and glittering one of them all, well…

I doubt I will be missing college.

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