Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Musa, quell’uom di moltiforme ingegno

Be forewarned. The following is not a coherent essay but a collage of thoughts around the theme of coming home from a journey and being at home.  It is rather disjointed but I am not going to labor over it. [The title is the opening of the Odyssey in Italian.]

As I turn to the Odyssey, I am confronted with the theme of the "nostos" (νοστος)" "homecoming" if you will.  As Wikipedia puts it: "the idea of returning home from a long journey."   That is what the Odyssey is all about and many mythic contexts would suggest that is what our life is all about.

When I began a bedtime story that would turn into The Adventures of Jonathan Grubbley, way back in November 1972, I turned to Liz, who was working on her master's degree in folklore and mythology, and asked her for a story line.  She suggested the hero quest, and that is what the bedtime story became, my tongue very firmly planted in cheek.  It was very silly and lots of fun for all of us, but clearly the tale of a hero's journey, even if the hero happened to be a ten-year-old boy who was bored on a rainy day.

It is pretty damned hard to escape archetypes.  Young Jonathan wound up in the middle of my cycle of tales while his ancestor Ian turned into the hero of an epic poem.  Ian's tale launches the entire cycle and proves a deadly serious journey, sending Ian forth to battle an evil that threatens his world, rounded out in his journey home.  It is a Bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story, in which his adventures shape him from a lost boy into a remarkable man.

Then there is Grev, descended from both Ian and Jonathan, whose own journey rounds out the Chronicles, shaping and shattering him in the process, leaving him and the reader to ponder all that is gained and lost, then make of it what meaning we may.

I have commented that Ian is who I wish I were and Grev is who I am.  Well, Grevedan Deveril is my alter ego (and nom de plume).  And Jonathan's tale could easily have been one of the tales with which I entertained my nieces and nephews half a century ago (though it actually beguiled graduate students who needed a break from studies).

All these stories are inevitably woven from my own life journey, the sources and people and events that enriched me and my imagination. All that has formed (or deformed) me becomes grist for the tales, ground together, leavened, and turned by the mysterious alchemy of storytelling into narratives that do not sound anything like my life and yet are totally my life.  As some of the opening lines of the Odyssey put it:
Many were they whose cities he saw, whose minds he learned of,
many the pains he suffered in his spirit on the wide sea,
struggling for his own life and the homecoming of his companions.
So, what of homecoming?

Odysseus and the Sirens

This particular graphic leads me to think about the Sirens as figures of whatever might lure me to my destruction.  In light of recent posts here, that could well be whatever has enticed me, or tried to entice me, from being true to myself.  Having talked about that already, I won't develop it here, only note it since it is a powerful image from myth.

 Ascension of Christ by Bagong Kussudiardja, Indonesia

Most of my past sermons on the Feast of the Ascension have used the image of homecoming, not merely Jesus returning to his Father but, since by the incarnation and his baptism he has united all creation and humanity to himself, the return of humanity and all creation to the Creator.

Not that homecoming is necessarily all fun and games. At the end of the Odyssey, Odysseus slaughters all his wife's suitors.  Their behavior had unsettled society in Ithaca, overturning all that was right and proper and healthy, and when Penelope's husband, and the true king, returns he sets things right again with a bloody vengeance.  Lord of the Rings fans know The Return of the King is not a walk in the park.

In Darkslayer I tell of a young boy who, by accident (or the will of the Stars), finds himself separated from all he calls home, torn forever from family and early eighteenth century England.  He must now live his life in another world, among a forest people and a warrior society.  He is accepted, beloved, and celebrated. He and his wife are best friends as well as lovers and, the initial adventure completed, they live a happy life.  She has one nagging anxiety: that he will be taken from her world as suddenly as he was taken from his original world.  He sees more than most people see and his mind is often very far away.  At the end of book two she asks if he is truly happy. Given all he has lost and gained, he has to think about it.  His home is now with her and their children.  Oh, he answers "yes."  I am a romantic; what did you expect?

But it is not a simple or easy answer.

The question all this poses for me tonight is not whether I am happy (I am ) but where do I feel at home?  Am I a perpetual wanderer who can never settle?  Can I put down roots and feel a sense of belonging and peace?

I have wandered and every time I moved it seemed not all that difficult to move on.  Bill will tell you that this very passive Taurus needed two years (and almost dynamite) to get him from Los Angeles to the East Bay.  Well, LA was the big city after life in Central California.  It had represented freedom and new life to me.  Once in the Bay Area I quickly realized how good it was to be there instead of Smogsville. Still, I was able to pick up and move on.

Part of me still misses our home in El Cerrito, though I am very glad now to be in New Mexico.

I do feel at home in my back yard.  It is a little oasis that I have developed over the years.  It was a sandbox and in April 2007 it looked like this:

Only one tree in that photo survives, lol.

I certainly have a sense that I love this spot and do not want to leave it.

In this first year of being a student at the University of New Mexico, I find the campus growing on me.  From the perimeter it is not very attractive, but when you get into the heart of the campus it is really quite nice.  Yes, once again I am bonding with landscape... with TREES.  But also with the sense of a place of learning, of youthful energy and potential.  It is very invigorating.  I would not call UNM home but I do feel that I am where I ought to be.

Those who have watched my posts at Facebook will recognize how many times I post shots of the mountains and sky here in Albuquerque and comment "I love where I live."  I do.  I feel deeply anchored by the mountains to the east, the volcanoes to the west, and the Rio Grande running from north to south.  I love the cycle of the seasons here: not harsh seasons but real seasons, nonetheless.

I do sense rightness and belonging.  Am I at home?  Probably as much as I have ever been. Although I love traveling, I have no urge to move.  Have I come to a resting place?  Well, right now I am at a wrestling place, not a resting place, yet I have a sense of contentment.  My journey is far from over.

Where, besides here, have I felt at home?

Evidently in the landscape of my dreams, discussed earlier.

In the hills around Hume Lake when I have been by myself: just me and nature.

At Mount Calvary before the fire, when the monastery and the Order of the Holy Cross provided a spiritual home for a pilgrim whom most considered neither fish nor fowl (no longer a Baptist but not really an Anglican).

Interestingly, though not a surprise to me, I feel very much at home here:

Yes, in the heart of Paris. Though I am not a citizen of France, nor a native or resident of Paris, when I am in that city I feel at home.  There is, for me, a rightness about being there. Something simply unquestioned.  I feel safe in Paris, comfortable, at ease.

I have only been there four times.  The first was in December 1967 as a young student, completely on my own for the first time in my life.  Yes, I was anxious, but also excited.  The second time was in the summer of 1969 when I served as an interpreter for a group of fresh high school graduates on a church tour that included helping to build a church in northern France and attending a conference in Switzerland.  We were only in Paris three days.  In 2012 Bill and I spent twelve nights in an apartment and caught as many sights as we had energy for, soaking up museums and architecture.  Then last May I spent twelve nights in the same apartment, on my own with no agenda, no timetable, and no responsibilities to anyone but myself.  Just like that first time forty-seven years earlier.

In sum, I think I have felt at home where I could be me.

To the extent that I feel sufficiently strong, free, and unanxious these days, I am increasingly just myself and thus increasingly at home. Because home is ultimately right where we are, and we must be at home within ourselves.

May we all welcome ourselves because journeying can be hard.

--the BB

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