I read an article yesterday about Diane Keaton, one of my favorite actresses. It was entitled “Diane Keaton Can’t Stop” and it was a reference to her house habit, which she calls an addiction. The magazine referred to it as “serial nesting” and described several of the dozen or so houses she has renovated, including a Lloyd Wright. The last four homes she has redone have all been featured in home magazines. Her current home, which is picture perfect and which she presumably spent a good deal of time on, is already passé, and she is designing the next one, which she is already sure will not be her last. She is quoted as saying, ” I ask myself, What the hell are you looking for?” Indeed.
What is this elusive thing we call “home”?
In a song called “Beloved Planet,” an attempt to express this longing, I wrote,
“Now I left home at seventeen
And have scarce been back again
Yet still I’m longing for a home
I know I had not then.
I’ve lived a score of places since,
Yet none has held me long-
Just streets and numbers in a book
My yearning bids me on.
Oh Beloved Planet-why do you make me homesick
When you’re the only home I’ve ever known?”
Why is it that no matter how much we have attained, how “happy” we are, how well things are going, if every dream we have ever dreamed has come true, we are filled with such longing? Why does nothing ever satisfy, allow us to breathe that deep sigh of relief and repletion?
We just celebrated Christmas, in the bosom of family, complete with great meals, good times together, the celebration of my four-year-old granddaughter’s birthday, lovely gifts-and here I am, empty again, anxious, striving, wondering if I am really loved. There has never been a time in my whole life that I have felt relaxed about that. The anxiety at times is overwhelming.
I have, truth be told, given up asking the question “Why am I never at peace or satisfied?” because I know the answer. This is not what my soul seeks-this life, however sweet it may be. This is not home. This place is not ultimately what I am made for, and it is not what Diane Keaton is made for.
C.S. Lewis described this longing as something that he came to call “Joy”:
“I call it Joy. ‘Animal-Land’ was not imaginative. But certain other experiences were… The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult or find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse… withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased… In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else… The quality common to the three experiences… is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.”
― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
We spend our very lives in the pursuit of pleasure and of comfort-whether it be physical or mental/emotional. As much as I have wanted to lead a useful, significant life, I cannot fool myself that much of my motivation has not been the good feelings that I glean from “doing good” or even “feeling useful”. As I struggle mightily with growing older, the fear, frankly, that I will end up like my mother, lying in bed with dementia, unwilling to move in any way that causes the least pain, and therefore, not moving at all, has become paralyzing at times. It has caused me to look sternly and unforgivingly at my life, how selfish my pursuits have been, how frivolous my use of money, how intent I have been on my own pleasure, and sense of safety. And always, just beyond me, lies Joy. If indeed it is true, as C.S. would say, that if I have a desire there is a corresponding satisfaction for that desire.
This world has become so dark. And maybe much of my perception, again, is age-related. What once seemed worthy, important, good or right has lost its glow. I feel like I am perched on the precipice and I don’t know what is at the bottom-if it is good and wonderful and will propel me forward into acceptance and grace towards my stage in life, or if it will swallow me and destroy me, as my feelings often seem about to do. This is not whiny belly-button gazing I am talking about. This is heart-pounding, throat-clutching anxiety at three a.m. and unable to calm myself down. I am trying here, people. And the dark side seems to be winning at times.
This is what I know, in spite of how little it seems to comfort me. I know, as Blaise Pascal proclaimed in his book, Pensees,
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”
– Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII(425)
That is all I know. I am not sure of anything much except that my longing for home is a longing for God, and it will not be satisfied as long as I remain here. It is not even satisfied in my closest moments with God, when I am weeping, transported out of my anxiety for a time to a kind of ecstasy in His presence-those only leave me longing for more. It will surely never be touched by any pleasure or diversion I seek. These things only lead me away. Even writing these things down lends only the briefest relief-and honestly, the reason I blog is to find a bit of relief.
I do not know what Heaven will be. Honestly, I am not ever completely sure I will be there. I often feel I might not. Only when I can lay hold in any measure of the immeasurable love of God do I feel His love is so great that He might find a place for me. It is never by looking at myself or anything I have done, or, even more laughably, not done. “It takes all I am to believe in the mercy that covers me.” (Jars of Clay, Worlds Apart)
We just watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which is one of our Christmas traditions. I am always struck by how true the story rings. It is my journey, it is your journey, it is the Quest: will we do whatever we have to do to destroy the evil that consumes us and those around us? I feel like Frodo, naked and shivering in the dark, much of the time. I feel like Pippin, terrified as he faces the hordes of Sauron. I feel like Eowyn, afraid her life will count for nothing and she will never do a deed of valor. And I know my heart is full of Gollum, consumed by what I cannot have, my eyes fixed on what will never satisfy, but which rather will kill me.
I long to be like Aragorn, keeping nothing for himself, loving so unselfishly, always brave, always faithful.”I do not fear Death” he said, and I fear it every minute of every day. Or even Merry, who wanted to go to battle. But again and again, I am me. In that story, I fear I would be one of the nameless women, screaming and fleeing in terror, happy to let others fight the battle, only wanting to hide and be safe.
Is there hope for me? I choose to think so at least some of the time. But it is a fight. And this is one of those days on which the fight is fierce. Who would believe such drama? And yet these thoughts consume my heart. I am not easy of mind, resting on any kind of laurels, smug, fat and happy in suburbia. In so many ways I feel I am still waiting to wake up and live. Maybe this will be the year.