Even though I’ve now been here two weeks, on my daily walks I still find myself gawking at everything and saying over and over to myself, “I’m here! I can’t believe I’m here!”
After 19 years, there’s a strange way it’s all both unfamiliar and familiar. The way the brook twists and turns and sparkles and sings. A park, preserved between the settlements of houses, to honor the brook. The narrow little footpath, hugging the brook. The cute tiny bridge, crossing the brook just to cross the brook – just for the sheer fun and delight of having the footpath cross. A bicyclist comes along the tiny little footpath, not with a kind of aggressive, “let’s intimidate the pedestrian who’s in my way” sort of energy (unfortunately all too common where I come from), but an “I love this brook and this path too!” kind of energy. He moves off the path when I see him, respectfully, but not far. Personal space is different here. People don’t mind being close to each other in physical space, because they don’t experience that as an invasion of personal space, spiritual space. People trust in each other to hold and protect that personal and spiritual space—this is what the so-called “British reserve” really is. I understand this deeply and well. I can relate. I easily adapt. This feels “home” to my own nature. But how can this be, when I didn’t actually grow up here?
Something deep in my soul resonates with the feel of this place.
Yet all of this sets up dilemmic vibrations in my soul. One morning at breakfast, when people asked me how I was liking it all, I said, “I love it. I could live like this forever.” Someone asked, “You’re not homesick?” “No,” was my immediate response. I’m living intensely in the present.
But still, was that a lie? I was perfectly honest in the moment. But if I look over my time here so far, I must confess that, to my enormous surprise, I do get brief pangs of something I could call homesickness, but this just feels healthy and normal – these brief moments of homesickness are reassurances that I won’t, after all, be devastated to go back. One big difference between home and here is that home is in a rural secluded corner of the U.S. that I also fiercely love, whereas where I am now is in the midst of a city, and I can’t say I’ve ever quite loved living in a city. Yes, the grounds and surrounding neighborhood are an oasis in that city, but still, you feel and smell and hear the press of the city’s busy energy all around. Could I be happy here forever? I would adapt to the aspects that are less than ideal. People always do.
But a more important dilemma is the one I alluded to yesterday, a dilemma between being “in the world, but not of it,” trying to have a positive transforming effect within a troubled world, and creating or sustaining an “alternative community,” set apart from its surrounding mainstream culture to some extent, showing by example that alternative ways of life are possible.
Which kind of life am I really called to? Both ways of life have value and are important. So my question is not, “which is the better approach?” but, “how am I being called?”
Is my attraction to this place because I am called to live in or replicate something like this kind of community, or is my attraction to this place because I need, right now in my life, to absorb this kind of renewing energy that it offers? That is part of the value of this kind of community: the way it offers spiritual renewal to those who stay here for shorter periods of time. Maybe that is it for me. (I keep trying to tell myself that.)
But the resonance in my soul is so deep, and the way I’ve been able to live out my “contemplative scholar” vision of my life so perfectly while I’m here (yes, perfectly), makes me wonder if there’s some deeper significance to the connection I feel to this place.
What is home really? Can we have more than one home? And what is the purpose of home -- a place of retreat and renewal, or the center of our life's giving to the world? These are some of the questions that I ponder these days.
6 years ago