Sehnsucht Heima

I am at a stop sign on my drive home from work, waiting with my foot on the brake at the bottom of a hill. I am looking to the right, where the road disappears around a bend. There is a light stretching from out of sight, reaching along the road and turning my direction. Just like every night before, I cannot see this light without thinking that it is perhaps a car coming towards me. For a moment each day there is always something around the bend. I stop and pause before realizing that nothing is coming; the source of the illumination is a roadside lamp. Without another thought I turn out onto the road.

Several years ago, a small band returned from a world tour to their native country of Iceland. I read an account afterwards of how they journeyed around their home country to perform free and relatively unannounced shows for residents of various small towns. They said it was their way of giving back. They titled the project and ensuing documentary “Heima”, an Icelandic word meaning something along the lines of “home” or “the sense of being at home”. There is no direct English equivalent.

I was walking towards my apartment earlier this week when a squirrel crossed my path. I stopped and watched him as he made a mad dash across the street and into the yard on the other side, all with a large walnut clutched in his mouth. I continued watching him as he inspected several different spots on the lawn. Finally he dug a small hole, deposited his savings within and, sensing my gaze, glanced at me as if to say “What? You’ve never buried your nuts before?” And then he scurried off after the light.

Sehnsucht is another word that has yet to find a counterpart in the English language. C.S. Lewis described it as “a longing for which we know not what”, a “golden echo”. I think of this word often when I am driving home late at night, when the wind blows, my mind runs, a squirrel crosses my path as the world spins madly on beneath my feet. I think of this on days that Melville once described as a “damp, drizzly November in my soul” when my thoughts are muddled or foggy and routine has worn down any sense of the Infinite in my life. I think of it when I see pictures of mountain ranges, when I lose myself staring out a window, when the light around the bend plays a trick on me because somewhere, deep inside, I’m programmed to hope for what I cannot describe.

Likewise, I often think of a small group of musicians from a remote northern island that felt so connected to their home they were willing to drop everything and give back. I think of this when political analysts turn their attention from genocide at the hand of our allies to a national debt that is somewhere near the odds against me playing professional football. I think of it when reading news reports about yet another shooting, when humanity seems to present itself as entirely self-destructive. At these times, such desires are like stabs of joy in an otherwise euthanized existence, longings that almost hurt for the brief moment in which they appear, but quickly vanish as light around the bend.

Because I am always in the passenger seat, even after the best of days. My foot is always ready to press the gas and I am always pausing to wonder if the light from around the bend means home is coming, it is here, it has arrived, the longing has been fulfilled. But even as I wait I do so knowing that I cannot yet stay to greet it.  We shall not cease in our explorations, wrote TS Eliot, and at the end of them we shall arrive at the place where we started and know it for the first time. We shall arrive at the place where we started: a beautiful intersection, a lonely stop sign on a street corner with light coming somewhere from beyond.

And so I drive to what I currently call “home”. My life is separated by the moments with her hand in mine, when the place I call home welcomes me in and  when noticing a squirrel for the first time becomes the marvel of my day. I store these morsels of hope eagerly in separate locations before scurrying onto the next thing. They are a collection that have been buried across my roads through time, all awaiting the quenchable object of my hope: the moment when senschuct and heima will intersect, when longing and homecoming unite as the light emerges around the bend and I have arrived at a place where I can greet it with open arms.

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