A Far Country

You know the story: the protagonist "gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country."  And, of course, while there he realizes how little he appreciated what he had at home, and he vows to go back to reclaim it -- even at great personal cost.

You know the story, even if you didn't happen to hear it in church yesterday because you arrived too late.  Because you thought you might be taking a day trip, and then when you decided not to, your husband was slow getting ready, and on the way you both stopped by the office to print some documents for the annual meeting after the service.  Anyway, you were late and missed the reading, but you know the story all the same.

You know the story because it's one of your favorites.  Leaving and coming home: two of the most wonderful and scary experiences possible, and yet two of the most ordinary.  Every day, most of us leave and come home several times.  Even a longer or more exciting trip looks just the same from the outside: we walk out, close the door behind us, gather our things and head off.  Some time later, we repeat the process in reverse, and everything is back to the way it was.

I often play a game with myself as I enter and exit the driveway: would I rather be starting out or ending?  Sometimes it's easy: if I'm going to work, I probably wish I were coming home already to a peaceful house and a good book and lunch.  If the house is a mess and I'm going to meet a friend, I'm already dreading the return to my responsibilities here.  But the more anticipated the trip, the higher the stakes.  Would I rather be tired and happy, full of the experience of the day, but with it behind me?  Or would I rather be excited, with something to look forward to -- but without having had the something yet, and wondering what it will be like?

These questions make me think more deeply about what I'm doing.  Often I'll find, with surprise, that I'm dreading dinner with my friends, even though (and maybe because) I haven't seen them in a long time.  Or I'll realize that I can't wait to get to school and delve into a new chapter in the history of the American pen.  Sometimes things flip-flop, and I end up spending far too much time on things that don't mean much to me and far too little on the things I love.  As I leave or return, I vow to myself to put things in order.

What did the Prodigal Son think as he gathered his things, "all he had," and left the beloved house of his father?  Did he know, deep down, that he would one day return?  Did he imagine his wealth would last forever?  As he sat among the swine, did he imagine what he must have looked like leaving the house in such arrogance?  And as he returned, did he wish he could be starting out again, so that he might ensure a different kind of homecoming?

Every day is a new journey for each of us.  Today I'm bidding a shy hello to the excellent community of Alexandria, which found and recruited my voice to add to the others who discourse there with alarming erudition.  I'm honored by the opportunity, and as always, I don't know what side of this trip I'd rather be on.  I'm just grateful I get to go at all.