Just over a year ago, God told me to come to Hong Kong, so I came. It ended up being one of the hardest and most humbling years of my life, because (contrary to what He’d let me believe), He hadn’t really brought me here to help drug addicts; He’d brought me here to sort me out. So it’s been a time of dying, and learning; starting again, and being put back together. It’s also been a year of profound homesickness. A time, when I began to truly understand what ‘homesickness’ was, and indeed, how accurate the name is. Because it really is a sickness. There were days of the last year when I could barely get out of bed. Where the longing for ‘home’ was so acute that it became a physical ache.
I am English. Exceptionally English. I am tall, I have hair of a colour which one might describe as ‘mousy’ and I have the unique ability to be simultaneously a bit skinny and a bit fat. And I love England. I love it from the bottom of my emotionally stunted heart. I love drizzle and old bookshops. I love The Beatles, grass and understatement; the BBC, talking about the weather and Joy Division. And I am not ashamed of my bumbling politeness or my love of poetry.
After a year in Hong Kong, I went back to England for a holiday. And as I circled above the city that I loved I didn’t feel like I’d come home. It felt like an aerial view of somewhere that reminded me of a place I once knew. And over those fleeting days of rest, in the country I used to call home, nothing was as sweet as I’d imagined. The old bookshop in Soho was full of Jackie Collins and Ben Elton. I eventually conceded that drizzle is somewhat annoying, and if I’m really honest, I find most of Joy Division’s back catalogue mind-numbingly boring.
And it’s not as simple as falling out of love. Because I still love the place, in the way that you might love your family dog. You grew up with it. You had some great times together. And now, even though it’s lost a leg and wets itself, you still love it. In a way. But you are under no illusion that it will complete you. I realised in all of this, that my notion of home wasn’t real. I realised that in the tangible aching of my homesickness, I was longing for something that didn’t actually exist. A patchwork of distorted memories, gently woven together in the depths of my optimistic, romantic subconscious. And thus it is for us all.
The notion of ‘home’ continually eludes us and only really exists in the looking back, or looking forward. Rarely in the present. Woody Allen’s latest film is a meditation on the ubiquity of nostalgia as a means of escape. The fact that it’s easier to live in another time than the one we’re in. Because it feels less painful. So then, why? Why is ‘home’ so elusive, so hard to get hold of, so hard to find, yet so utterly fundamental to human existence? So many of us long for it, but by its very nature, it’s almost impossible to fully experience in the present.
As the great C. S. Lewis so astutely observes: it must be because we were made for somewhere else.
The entire Bible is a grand narrative of a people in exile, and God bringing them home. And thus it can only be that the reason this feeling of home is so fundamental to our being, yet so impossible to fully attain is because we were made for another place. We will never be fully content, fully whole on the broken up old sphere we call earth.
Paul calls us citizens of Heaven. If that’s the case, then no wonder going back to North West London didn’t match up.
T.S. Eliot describes home as ‘the place you start from’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of Eliot. That musical he wrote with Andrew Lloyd Webber was a cracker, but I think he’s wrong. In fact, surely the opposite is true. Home must surely be where we end up.