I watch him weave through the crowd exchanging pleasantries with each person who notices him. Many are new to him but others he’s known for longer. He remembers details from their last interaction a week before and asks them how they’re doing. They feel like he sees them and hears them, and he’s happy about that; everyone speaks well of him.
“I can’t love these people,” he thinks. He wants to. In a way, he does love them. But it’s a shallow love – less a joyful hug than a feather-touch, less a deep knowledge than a game of fact-memorisation. He yearns to know them and for them to know him. But he’s terrified that perhaps in the knowing of his real self they’ll deride him. Or that he will bear himself to them and then swiftly be separated from them – whether by his, their, or neither’s will. Or that perhaps he doesn’t know who his real self is anymore.
“I can’t love these people because I’m scared they won’t love me. I cannot love these people because I’m scared they won’t stay. I cannot love these people because I’m scared I won’t stay.” So he weaves through the crowd and exchanges his pleasantries. I watch him slip out when no one else is watching, confirmed in his own mind that no one cares. He carries dreams that he stops himself from sharing. He carries aches that want to be known. He carries a life that he wishes to share, yet doesn’t. Can’t.
All people go through times of transition. Many experience moving and leaving a community, a home, a life, behind. Some people even get used to the transience. For the wanderer, one might wish that he was able to be the go-getter who jumps headfirst into a new season. But often it can be hard to put down roots again. It can be easier instead to hold back – to not put down roots, decorate the home, and invest in relationships and community. It makes it so much easier to say goodbye.
How much easier is it to stay unattached? To live life with a mental bag packed, filled with your biggest dreams and deepest needs, and sitting sealed by the door. Everything, everyone you love will eventually leave you (or you them) and every good thing must end. Hold all things lightly and you save yourself the heartbreak. That’s often the mantra of the person fresh out of transition. Sometimes in an effort to hold lightly, we choose to love lightly. Perhaps we come to believe that this is a sign of emotional resilience, wisdom, or even spiritual maturity.
We detach ourselves from the world around us, seeing it as fleeting. We console ourselves that this is right, necessary, yet find ourselves surrounded by people and activity and feeling completely alone.
He walks by the shore listening to the gentle waves sliding up and down the cliffs. He is silent. The summer nights never get completely dark. He watches the faint midnight glow on the horizon. I watch him walk a few paces before pausing and staring out at the sea. Then he resumes his course.
After some time he stops and breathes it in – the cool air, the smell of the sea, the feel of the cobblestone path, the memories, the joy, the sadness, the bittersweet memories, and the deep yearning to return. His head is buzzing and his heart is heavy. For a second it seems like the dam might burst, like it has every other time, letting the thoughts and emotion spill back out in an unruly mess.
But this time each piece is gathered, accepted, folded up, and put in its place. Every shred of the past is returned where it belongs. A subtly different man breathes out. He is all himself and no longer an effigy of a past self. He pauses, and whispers to no one, “I’m ready to go.”
The book of Joshua opens as so: “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord spoke to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying, “My servant Moses is dead. Now proceed…” The time comes for something to end and for life to continue its inexorable march onwards. But sometimes we come to care for a thing, a place, a time, a person or people, so deeply that we struggle to let go when we must; we hold tightly. Seasons change, lives move, the dance continues, but a part of us goes on willing the past to be born again into the present. As a result we yearn for anywhere but here. We rail against where we are, seek the utopian dream-world that our past becomes when tinted by longing and nostalgia. We fail, sometimes, to mourn well – to bury Moses and bring of him only what we should.
He who cares deeply will experience loss deeply. She who loves deeply will mourn deeply. Mourning well places the past where it belongs and allows a new future to flourish in the surprising ways that it will. It allows one to agree, eventually, and say “Yes. Moses is dead. It’s time now. It’s time to proceed.”
“Pass me your plate.” The table is abuzz with life. Nothing fancy, nothing theatrical. Just the sounds of four people serving up. Plates slide, cutlery clangs softly, glasses are filled, and someone washes a mug at the sink. The rice is served, then the curry, then the rest of the food. The garden is tended with love, the worms in the compost bin are lovingly fed, dishes and mugs are constantly drying in the kitchen, and the dining table is marked with memories of meals and tea shared. Here is life and in one sense there’s nothing special about it. Yet here is life! In a world filled with those just ticking along, alone, here is the living of life together.
This home is different to the others. This home feels like a place where life, not mere existence, takes place. It’s not the life of the transient: never setting down roots, loving reservedly, and always being ready to move.
Here is the painting of walls because it’s nicer that way. Here is the making of compost because months down the line the garden will be all the better for it. Here is the altering of schedules so that a child can be taken off a mother’s hands for a few hours.
Here is the welcoming of strangers as if they were as much a neighbour as the people next door.
Somehow, in the middle of his wandering, he’s come to a table where no one is impressed by his credentials nor cares about his career. At this table he’s not welcome because of external things; he’s welcome simply because he is here. I’ve watched him journey from place to place, I’ve watched him question at night whether the feeling of being a drifter through this world will ever change. For tonight he has an answer. Right now, right here, he is welcome. He is family. He is home.
There is a God of the road, a God of the dusty winding paths. He draws people through journeys across open meadows and stormy seas, mounts of transfiguration and valleys of tears. Often we walk these paths unaware of where they go; our cries for clarity and foreknowledge are met with the whisper of: “Trust me.” Our meandering paths make us wonder if this God really is up there, directing this journey. Yet the truth is better – there is a God of the road and He is on that road. He is a God who wanders.
There is a God of the road who is also the God of the table. He is a God of tents, homes, cities, hearths, and copious amounts of food. He is a God who lays out a table in the wilderness. Every sojourner is welcomed and so is faced with a choice: do I let this be home or not? Do I unpack the bags holding my stories, hopes, dreams, loves, hates, joys, and burdens? Or do I eat my meal, sandals on my feet, bag ready for the road? There is a yearning but also a fear.
The God of the road, the God of the table, says, “Trust me.”
“We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanence, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom in the sense that dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.”*
Tomorrow every person at that table may go a different way. But right now each one can set down their burdens. They can care deeply while holding one another lightly, secure in the knowledge that even apart, they themselves are held tight in a loving father’s embrace. Their welcome can be wholehearted, laughter unguarded, tears unfiltered, and love unreserved.
*excerpt from Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh