Prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.
2 Cor. 5:8
Break extends long, seeming endless days of sloth, measured by lazy hours and guilty pangs as my IQP peeps from under dusty scholarship applications. The books I read lay heavy on my mind, only three in the ten long days: two lousy, terrible reads that shame me to admit them. Too many hours of Babylon 5 episodes and chocolate peanut-butter balls coat my waist and hips, while the few conscience-assuaging push-ups do little to truly counteract the cookies.
Silence blankets WPI’s cold campus as winter’s first tendrils creep in to embrace the empty buildings. Strangers meet in conference rooms, following cryptic signs and feeling lost. A few desultory pool-players’ voices echo in the Campus Center’s emptiness. Office workers contentedly shuffle papers, enjoying the respite from the ceaseless demands of their employers, the perennially penniless students. Students who have long since fled to their warm homes, comfortable beds, homemade meals; dust hangs in the air, the last remnant of a hastily-beaten retreat back to the known-entity of childhood memories.
Home rings silver-bell clear as the Alden Bells toll out the hour to the silent classrooms. Home, a place of quiet book-reading, of sometimes raucous meals hastily-thrown together but always imbued with a dash of love, of deep soft beds and the well-known sounds of the house settling as its inhabitants sleep. The place of freedom, safety, long hours of board games and friendly gatherings, of long nights softly conversing with a sleepless mother, of hilly walks trailing behind an eagerly waving golden tail. What is home, what sooths the lonely longing mirrored by desks devoid of students, chalkboards cleared of equations? Is it the place, the familiarity of a couch that held your feverish body many times, pillowed your weary head as The Mask of Zorro played once again? Is it the mountains looming in the distance, always there to the left and right, a way to keep your bearings? Is it the roads you could never get lost on that you’ve traveled since childhood, the curbs you ran over learning to drive? Yet those things alone cannot make a place home, for without the people—the family, the oldest friends, the long-known neighbors—would any place shout with welcome?
Yet even in the combination of people and place, a void remains. Nothing can be home when, indeed, we were made for heavenly things: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) Our Creator built this void into His creations, perhaps, the knowledge somehow that as much as the world fills the desire for home, some part lacks. Even as I ache for the familiarity of Seattle’s cool gray skies, dripping leaves, and morning comic-reading, I know everything has changed. My parents, now empty-nesters, have completed a major overhaul of their house’s worst features; new Berber carpet replaces the hideously cheap brown, while fresh linoleum shines in the kitchen and matte paint—the “adult paint”—coats the walls. All new light fixtures brighten the walls and leather furniture has replaced the twenty-year-old couch and loveseat I slept upon many a night (Sleep Anywhere Night, every Friday night for some time, I once spent in the light-up closet but found its linoleum floor too hard even for my young body). My room has long since been packed into cardboard boxes hidden in the closet, its Katie-ness replaced by sterile, comfortable guest room touches.
Even returning to “home,” then, means little. What I long for is a childhood returned, the mud-fights and swimming lessons followed by Safeway croissants, the creamed tuna on toast that Colleen hated, the Star Trek and pizza nights. But my childhood is gone into memories and photographs, dissolved by time and the ringing of the Alden Bells. The home I long for exists no longer; but even could I return to that very home, it would not be the same because I myself have changed. The homesickness will remain until Heaven’s gates loom before me and the endless love of my Creator fills the gap widening in my heart. Home, lost yet always a step ahead of me cannot ever be reached, regardless of how comfortable a certain location becomes. God created us with a longing for the home His son, Jesus Christ, went to prepare for us and no earthly place can ever completely substitute for that Home.
And yes, that is a picture of my dad on the phone in the gravelly side yard. Carmel just could not keep away.
– KF –