Guest post by Peter Worrall
I am being pulled through green hedgerows backwards. I have a rear-facing seat on the 14:42 from Exeter St. David’s to Plymouth. The Devonshire hills, the trees, the shrubbery and the grass are well watered and verdant. Life flourishes here. I once flourished here. I’m a Devon boy come home for the summer.
My Minnesotan wife sits opposite me. We have children of our own, but they are rooted in a different soil. We live in Chicago. It has been home for twenty years. It has flashes of white and green, but mostly the melting snow or the dry summer turns everything to gray. The gray and black towers of the city provide a sense of importance as I walk with the masses from the train to work each day. The illusion of Babel is that our tasks are monumental because we live in towering cities fashioned by our own hands. We venture to cities to get degrees, make a career, and develop a strained sense of self-importance. The city imprints identity on the many pilgrims who are drawn for work or study. The winds of progress blow us down the interstate and into the metropolis.
Creating various identities, I chased my dreams forward to Pakistan, Japan, and America. I became a missionary, a teacher, and a pastor. They call me a professor now, but I only lecture for nine months of the year. Over the long summer that label frays. I become more father, husband and son. All the sedimentary layers of achieving wash away. Underneath are green hills and overgrown hedgerows. Underneath is a blond boy in shorts, with a ruddy face whose joy is untampered by commitments, fears, and expectations. I’m pulled backwards to remember him and he looks quizzically into my eyes. Of all the many possible tracks I could have chosen, why did I choose the ones I did? God’s will? The love of fun? Fear? Too often fears hemmed me in. However, it is clear too that providence pulled me. I could not see, at the time, where I was going. However, now that my journey is half done I see design. This passage has been engineered.
Sheep wander the hills here and cattle ruminate without much interruption. Cows look up perplexed at humans rushing about with minds full of schemes. It is true the ancients told us to consider the ant for his industry, but man’s teacher also told us to consider the lily and the sparrow. They do not labour or toil, rather they rest in the provision of great abundance.
The generations who worked these patchwork fields are lost to me. Ivy, stinging nettles, and weeds cover the broken remains of ancient industry. Time covers up the past. Although people hear my accent and believe my true home is in America, I don’t belong in Chicago. I was rooted here in Devon, but I don’t belong here either. I am a tourist in my home. I am an alien in the country where I am a citizen – more in love with its beauty because of its absence.
I am a sojourner. I long for belonging that is deeper than the soil or the rocks or the magma. I long for a better home. I reach out for a firmer foundation. My wife opposite is a comfort, but what I see now tells me my journey is not complete. My wife foreshadows a greater union and each landscape speaks of something greater.
As I have traveled, each home succeeds in revealing something another home lacks. I resonate with the hobo who carries his belongings in bags from town to town. My father and I would spend whole summers backpacking in France. For the vagrant, each new home is a limitation or an enclosure. The unknown beyond each horizon often draws people onward. Our limited vision bids us move. The grass under the microscope draws us down and down into infinitesimal division and magnification. We wander to the top of our local hill and wander to the next. We invent ways to travel faster and farther – we leave the world and we look in awe at how small our planet is in the solar system and universe. We wonder how to cover the light years to Alpha Centauri.
When we rewind through meanderings and we’re pulled backward to our place of origin. It shows us a glimpse of all that we have left behind, all we have accomplished, and some of what we might be. But, it also leaves us with a sense of futility, a dose of humility, and the longing for a far off country from whose shores no-one ever returns.