From time to time, when I drive, I get suddenly overcome by a feeling of oddity, of an overwhelming realization that the sky I am seeing is on the other side of the world. It used to be a constant impression of a dream from which I was about to wake up, and it is only very occasional now, but even now, over twenty years after my family left Russia, there are moments I can’t quite believe where I am.
I lived a completely settled life for my first 19 years, knowing my parents’ friends and expecting to know my children’s, all of us in the same city, walking the same streets, squeezed into the same buses, breathing the air of the ages, tracing with our hands the polished railings over the embankments where the greatest poets had conceived immortal words. Home to me was unquestionably a place: my country, my city, the apartment where I’d grown up, on the eighth floor of a brick building, with the views of sunrise and sunset spanning the thin northern sky.
And then it all was torn away from me in a whirlwind of suitcases, acidic tears, and airports, and I was homeless in nearly every sense. We had shelter here, on the other side of the planet, but it took a fight and a long time to feel at home in America. To call it “home.” It was one of the great battles of my life – a lesson I learned late in life. I moved a lot, and I was never just American – yet I did eventually come to love it: this place, this people, this language. The air of it, its goodness and humor and pride. Everything that makes a home. Still, my view of what it meant, how permanent it was, and how deep it ran was never the same it had been the first time around. I hear the echoes of the same loss of geographical innocence, as it were, in the voices of people who talk about the sale of their first childhood house.
I suppose you might say that I learned itinerancy by being dropped on my head from an airplane, across an ocean. It is either mildly ironic or deeply fitting that the Dominican order, to which I feel so called, values itinerancy so. Emphasizes it as one of its core values. Itinerancy in its broad sense is a flexibility of mind and heart that allows us to flow with the flow of life so we can continue to give of ourselves as circumstances change, so we continue to nourish and be nourished. Sometimes it means being open to new professional challenges, sometimes accepting new people with patience and open arms, sometimes learning new ways of compromise, and sometimes leaving behind a place we love to walk to a new place, where we are needed.
There is, however, more to itinerancy in my mind than a practical necessity elevated to an admirable value. I believe that every reflecting Christian at some point joyfully understands the importance of this concept. Itinerancy. It is not detachment; it is not unavoidable wandering. It is the state of mind of those who have truly discovered the gift of God’s promise.
The Gospel of Matthew ends with very possibly my absolutely most beloved verse in all of the Bible. Standing upon a mountain in Galilee, where it all begins and ends, the Risen Christ talks to his disciples. “Remember,” he says to them at the end. “I am with you, even unto the end of time.” And then, we are to understand, he goes Home.
Itinerancy is not homelessness. It is the state of mind of those who rest most assuredly in this promise of Home Eternal. Those who have formulated the ultimate, unshakable safety of a home that can never be taken away – the home with God. The Kingdom of God. Heaven. Eternity.
Yes, you may call it what you will – biblical terminology, in fact, is not the point — just think: Christians refer to dying as “going home.” If you use this phrase and don’t throw it around as a pat expression, if you truly mean it, your heart must squeeze sweetly in your chest every time you say it, mustn’t it? In joy for those who have gone there and in longing for yourself. One day… Think of the gift of believing that, with all the comings and goings of this life, with our reunions and good-byes ecstatic and heart-wrenching, borders and visas and changing climates, our real, true Home awaits us warm and open-armed and can never be lost. Never! No matter what happens. Not ever.
I lived almost twenty years rung out and gnawed by nostalgia, the kind that consumes. The kind that kills. It’s no longer killing me, and not because I don’t miss my city or my country, the sound of my language or my friends’ faces. I miss them every day, and still I get sad and misty-eyed and sometimes worse. But nostalgia is no longer burning a hole in my chest. Because I know that nothing is lost forever. And because I know I am never homeless. I am always on my way Home.