What is ‘home’? Why are we so anxious to get there?
|I'm getting nowhere with the gouache, but at least I get to think lofty thoughts with a brush in my hand.|
In the absence of real information, we like to spin theories. Our current one is that our flight crew needs to arrive in Buenos Aires sometime today to allow for their mandatory rest period. If they do, they’re likely to end up here. We’ll be cheering discreetly from our fourth-floor corridor.
At least our current flight wasn’t canceled or rescheduled overnight. (My restive mind wouldn’t let me stop checking.) Yesterday, a few more Americans drifted in, including a young mother with two small children. Our embassy is moving our fellow citizens into the capital for this last flight, and I expect they will continue until the absolute last minute.
If I have a home in this world, it’s where my children and grandchildren are. That’s not a place, because they’re all young and footloose. Right now, they’re encamped in a rural county of New York, keeping themselves out of the urban plague-zones as much as is possible. They’re in two separate groups because one of my sons-in-law has had (presumptive) coronavirus. But they’re close enough to each other to help in an emergency, and they can go outside without violating urban social distancing rules.
|Yesterday we walked to the pharmacy (allowed in this lockdown) to get new disinfectant wipes. We saw this wonderful car.|
The peculiar thing about our times is that we can keep in contact with them from another continent. That’s not quite the same as being with them, but it’s close. Even when I get to Maine, I won’t be seeing them any time soon. Non-essential travel is banned in Maine and Massachusetts. But if home is where the heart is, my home right now is with them.
Augustine of Hippo addressed the meaning of home at moment of unprecedented disaster: the sack of Rome in 410. This was the first time in 800 years that the Eternal City had fallen to foreign forces. “The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken,” wrote Jerome.
Traditional Romans saw the failure of their empire as a punishment for abandoning their pagan religion for Christianity. Of course, the empire actually failed because it had become terminally weak and was under pressure during a period of massive human displacement.
The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius, by John William Waterhouse, 1883, courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia. While Rome suffered, the Emperor was in Ravenna, playing with his pet birds.
Christian or pagan, Romans suffered together. Homes and properties were destroyed, people of all castes were raped, tortured and murdered. Families were sold into slavery and separated forever. It truly must have seemed like the end of the world.
Augustine’s response was radical. He wrote that even if Rome failed, the City of God would ultimately prevail. Empires would come and go, but the New Jerusalem would last forever. Regardless of where we wash up, the City of God is our true home. It’s been the consolation of Christians ever since.