Home—or a fruit remembered (but never tasted?)

A Romantic, says Nietzsche, is someone who always wants to be elsewhere. If that’s so, then the children of the Internet are Romantics, for they perpetually wish to be someplace else, and the laptop reliably helps take them there — if only in imagination. The e-mailer, the instant messenger, the Web browser are all dispersing their energies and interests outward, away from the present, the here and now. The Internet user is constantly connecting with people and institutions far away, creating surrogate communities that displace the potential community at hand … dissolve(ing) the present away.

—Mark Edmundson, from “Dwelling in Possibilities”  in the Chronicle Review

What you have made me see,” answered the Lady, “is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before—that at the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you had not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other…the world is so much larger than I thought.  I thought we went along paths—but it seems there are no paths. The going itself is the path.

—C.S. Lewis, from Perelandra

In Gertrude Stein’s Everybody’s Autobiography, she tells the story of a visit to Oakland, California, where she had spent much of her childhood.  After living in Paris for several decades a lecture tour brought her back home, but she records that once there, she could not find her house—her school and park were no longer there and her childhood synagogue was gone.

“There is no there there”, she famously wrote.

She came back to where she started but found nothing that resembled Home as she remembered it—this home had faded into something unfamiliar.

***

I have an idea that stretches my mind every so often, maybe more than any other idea that weaves in and out of my thoughts.  It is sometimes a thread in my happiest thoughts, though most often it comes as a piercing sense of loss or of great longing.  It is an idea—or maybe a set of ideas—about “home”.  I will do my best to tie them together.

Miriam-Webster defines “home” as a noun dating back to before the 12th century, meaning: 1a: one’s place of residence; 2 the social unit formed by a family living together; 3a: a familiar or usual setting : congenial environment; also : the focus of one’s domestic attention, b: habitat; 4a : a place of origin, b: headquarters; 5 : an establishment providing residence and care for people with special needs; 6 : the objective in various games.

The idea of home is old.  It’s where you’re from (origin), where you may be going (old people’s home), a goal or objective (just games?);  and though it seems we are in some sense always home (habitat or headquarters), it’s also a feeling or place that so often evades us (Gertrude Stein).  So we tend to be constantly moving, “dissolving the present away” and creating sequential surrogate communities as we go.  We  perpetually seek some Home that we either cannot find, or believe we once knew but to which we cannot return.  It can be at once both our happiest thought and our most desperate desire.

I do not believe the romance Nietzsche speaks of is an end in itself, but rather is driven by the Romantic hope of eventually finding the place that makes any more wandering seem foolish—the hope of coming Home. For who does not in the end, want to come Home?  We all seek a place where we are no longer strangers and yet we wander on. Why?

I think we each have a sense of Home, whether it’s in front of us or behind us: that is, a place where we came from and to where must get back or a place in which we were always meant to be and to where we have always been heading.  Either way, we have an idea of what Home should be, and we look everywhere until we find it, no matter what other joys are presented along the path.

Sadly, what we remember of a particular “home” will probably never feel like home again.  It has become a feeling or expectation—not a place.  It is a tranquility and peace we believe in but probably never experienced.  It’s the best of a set of memories that in actuality included much that has been left out.  It’s a fruit we want but do not find.  And that memory has the power to repeatedly destroy the here and now—the moment before us—to make it taste insipid at every turn in spite of “the good you got”.

So, too often, we “…refuse the real good” that is before us”.  We tend to live as wanderers—seeking Home, even if we’ve never left it, yearning for it even if we stand still and do nothing.

***

That’s my idea. I realize it sounds discouraging—but I believe the source of this distinct yearning in our hearts points us to a robust understanding of who we are and the nature of our lives and I believe there is a promised resolution to this tension in which we can set our Hope: an ultimate Home where we will finally find There there, and much more besides.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.  For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.

—Hebrews 11:13-14

The road goes ever on and on; down from the door where it began.

—J.R.R. Tolkien, from the Lord of the Rings

More to come…

Other posts on “home”:
Kicked out: home pt. II
To drink before the Lion

  1. “Brooks was here” “So was Red”

  2. …Your blog immediately got me thinking of the movie “Shawshank Redemption”. Neither in the prison nor out of the prison was there a home for Red (or Brooks). The sense of home evaded them until Red remembered his friend who made a promise. Hope realized. Therein lies the “redemption”.

  3. Rob Cortegiano

    Hey …,

    I really like this post. This touches on something very deep and very basically human. Did you see the movie Inception? I think there are some themes in there that resonate with this. The whole movie creates the feeling of being drawn into someone else’s conscious and unconscious yearning for “home” and then in the end, your left with the very real possibility that what he perceives as being “at home in the world” finally, is not in fact real, it is a construct of the unconsious mind or a dream state. Anyway, looking forward to the follow up to this one.

  4. To drink before the Lion | inklingz - pingback on 2010/09/14 at 12:51 am
  5. What’s black & white and read all over | inklingz - pingback on 2010/09/14 at 12:59 pm
  6. Kicked out: home, pt II. | inklingz - pingback on 2010/09/30 at 3:11 pm

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