I recently stumbled upon a C.S. Lewis book that I had never read. It was titled A Pilgrim’s Regress. It is a semi-autobiographical allegory that traces the philosophical journey of a man named John from unbelief to belief.
It is a fascinating little book. To be honest, a lot of it went over my head, but C.S. Lewis provided helpful subtitles that made at least most of it intelligible. Thank goodness!
Near the end of the book, C.S. Lewis writes, “Be sure it is not for nothing that the Landlord has knit our hearts so closely to time and place—to one friend rather than another and one shire more than all the land.”
This line made me freeze. It is contradictory to so much of what the world tells us.
We modern men and women need to be citizens of the world. We need to love everyone and everything equally. One country is much like another after all or should be. Friendship and connection online is the same as friendship and connection formed in the real world. We must make no judgments, nor close our minds, lest we offend or patronize.
This is a false dichotomy. If there is one thing that I cannot stand in religion, in politics, in everyday life, it is false dichotomies.
False dichotomies have become the norm. How many articles have you read recently that seek to force a choice on the readers? Articles intended to separate and divide? How many articles make the definitive claim that you can’t be two things at once or that in being one thing, you cannot be another as well?
The world is not black and white, and neither are most decisions, issues, beliefs, or situations. You are not one thing or another. You don’t have to accept a label for the sake of convenience or simplicity. Human beings are not convenient. We aren’t simple. Our thoughts and actions are as varied as the weather and even less predictable.
But I digress.
The C.S. Lewis line stuck out to me because in coming to Ireland, I was expecting to fall in love with the country. I was ready to be swept off my feet by the Emerald Isle. I was ready to cry regretful tears as I boarded the plane home. After all, that’s a very millennial thing to-do. That’s what everyone told me would most likely happen.
But that’s not what has happened.
I do love Ireland. I’m enjoying my time here immensely. I also love being close to the United Kingdom. I am so thankful that I am a quick (and inexpensive) plane flight away from Britain. There is so much to explore and to learn in both these countries. The history is incredible. The people nice. The tea delightful. The pace much more relaxing. The travel times much shorter. The weather even more unpredictable.
I love it. I am loving it.
That being said, I am, at the same time, falling more in love with the United States of America–my country, my shire–each and every day.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder. This is a statement we have all heard, but, until now, it is a statement that I have never really believed. Maybe it’s because I’ve never really been absent from a place long enough to truly experience this phenomenon.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been homesick before, but to my mind there is a difference.
I miss the people and things (like my bed) that I can’t become more fond of because I already love them so much. I’m already infinitely fond of them. Also, one of the perks of modernity is that I get to call or text them (minus my bed). We write letters and send videos. We can communicate as little or as much as we want too. If I’m missing them, the solution is simple—reach out. They will reach back. It’s great. Homesickness has a multitude of cures in the 21st Century.
True absence, the kind of absence that makes the heart grow fonder, is different. You actually have to be truly removed from something or someone. Additionally, there must be room in your affection towards that person or place for further growth. For the first time in my life, I am absent from my country for an extended period. Unlike with my friends and family, I can’t pick up the phone and talk to the United States of America. Sure, I can read the news and keep up with all the drama, but I can’t be there physically. I can’t drive home down the backroads and interstates that I know so well. I can’t breath the air and revel in the daily beauty of the mountains in Lexington, Virginia.
This is a self-imposed, short-term exile and yet I now understand why people who are kept forcefully from returning to their homes or whose homecomings are somehow jeopardized, kiss the ground upon their eventual return. Am I being too dramatic? Maybe. Do I mean every word? Yes.
Charles C.W. Cooke once said, “If you showed me a picture of two mountains and one was an American mountain, I would love the American mountain a little bit more.” I laughed when I heard it, but that was before I came to Ireland. Now, I feel the same way.
Irish mountains are great. The Irish countryside is beautiful. I have nothing bad to say about it. I harbor no ill-will towards Ireland. It’s teaching me so much. It’s opening my eyes to so many things
But it’s not my shire. It’s not my home. My heart is not tied to it in the same way that it is tied to America.
To be clear, I realize that not everyone feels this way. Maybe your shire isn’t the country you were born into. (Charles C.W. Cooke was born and grew up in Britain.) Maybe you’re still trying to figure out where you belong in this big, wide world. Maybe you love multiple places and you feel torn between them. That’s okay. I know lots of people who fall into these categories.
I’m also not saying that I love everything about America. I’m not blind to her faults.
However, until/if/when God calls me elsewhere, I’d rather spend my time and energy making America a better place. Where in America? I don’t know yet. Doing what in America? I really don’t know that yet either. I just know that God has knit my heart to the United States of America. That’s where I want to be.
I’m going to enjoy every minute of my adventures abroad. I’m going to work hard. I’m going to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to its fullest. I’m going to love every minute, but I’m also counting the days until I get to return to my country, to my shire, to my home.
After all, there’s no place like it.
‘TIS fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings,—
But now I think I’ve had enough of antiquated things.
So it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars!
Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air;
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair;
And it’s sweet to dream in Venice, and it’s great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.
I like the German fir-woods, in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing fountains filled;
But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her way!
I know that Europe’s wonderful, yet something seems to lack:
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free,—
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.
Oh, it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the bléssed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars
– Henry Van Dyke “America for Me”