I’m heading overseas next week. This will be my first visit to family and native land for some time, and a chance too to reconnect with central European life and culture.
A huge number of us come from somewhere else. I’m an Australian citizen but I’m Scottish and British and proud of it, as others are proud to be Vietnamese, Sri Lankan or Bolivian.
Millions of us are lucky we can be ourselves while being loyal citizens of this, our home. I wish to God—and pray to God—that many others could be welcomed into this arrangement as we used to be in droves in another millennium.
“Half the world’s cultures place their frail elderly in homes; the other half focus their efforts on going home to be with them. No doubt each could learn some strengths and virtues from the other.”
Why do we go back, go home, travel when we’re not forced to? At the simplest level there are practical needs, psychological needs. We have to get stuff done or resolve our inner questions and anxieties, address our joys and fears.
It’s complex though. Home is not always happy, particularly for those who fled it. Completing the circle is no deep fulfilment for people marching down a straight line to escape or wandering a crooked line to find adventure.
In many cultures, obligations to family, party, creed or country explains the return. Some call home very regularly, send money, support, visit annually. This can look oppressive; it can also make many of us ashamed. Half the world’s cultures place their frail elderly in homes; the other half focus their efforts on going home to be with them. No doubt each could learn some strengths and virtues from the other.
In Catholic tradition the journey is everything. All creatures set out from the Father, and through nature and grace return to Him.
The Bible tells basically of journeys—from Eden, from Israel, from Egypt, from Nazareth, from the House of Pilate, from the Tomb. The Church is different from all other faiths: go out, journey to the furthest parts, tell them my story. All places and cultures are redeemed, and so the gospel is not alien to any part of the earth.
I read the Canterbury Tales at university. Once read, never forgotten. Life’s journeys and the characters we meet on the way often fall for me into the stories and events of Chaucer’s great epic. Because the Tales muddies up the line between holidays and pilgrimages, I think these were never truly separate in my mind again.
I first travelled the year I read the Chaucer: a cheap flight from Edinburgh to Santiago de Compostela. A cab dropped me off one hot night in front of the greatest of cathedrals, with the smell of strange food all around me and a procession of the Virgin heading down the street away from me. I never forgot this. Wonder and faith combined.
“I think the key thing is to take what opportunity you can to leave home, even if only in mind.”
Travel is expensive and it takes us away from other things, including for some the capacity to earn and to care for others. Where it is impossible, TV, internet and local travel options in this huge land offer many compensations. I think the key thing is to take what opportunity you can to leave home, even if only in mind. Having a home is a privilege and matters greatly to us, particularly as we age. But home gets part of its meaning from inviting travellers safely in, and where we can, heading safely out.
I think many of us found very hard the series of instructions not to travel overseas, then not to leave the state, not the city, not your district, suburb, house, for some bedroom.
This was not just a denial of freedom, albeit, perhaps, necessary; it took from a nation of people, whether Indigenous to the land or from overseas, certainty about when they could go back, reconnect, make the trip to the land of their parents, grandparents, ancestors. I think we all learned a lot from this.
And now our priorities have been stood on their head again by the footage of young men fighting and old people frightened in central Europe. We can’t just stay home quietly at the other end of the world. It’s time to go back.