Small rain beaded on the oval airplane windows as the light began to fade. Beneath us came the muffled thumps of luggage being loaded. The hum of canned air, the muffled chat of passengers, sounds of luggage being stowed overhead and underseat, the soft voices of crew--these all surrounded me. I leaned back in my seat, suddenly glued by fatigue to the upholstery. I'd just come from my first book fair, and I'd spent two long but excellent days on my feet, being joyously extroverted: great fun, but not exactly my normal state of affairs. Now, in the overhead bin and under the seat in front of me were two hefty bags of books and catalogues that I'd been hauling around the airport for a couple of hours, fascinating stuff that I couldn't wait to read.
This book fair marked the first time in exactly 30 years that I'd set foot in the Midwest. Last time I was here, it was in a rented van, heading East for a brief bleak time before we headed north to Canada, which is where I've lived all my adult life. But I'd been born less than 50 miles from this airport; I'd spent my small-childhood in an old suburb of this very city and a chunk of my middle childhood in a town on the western edge of the state. This state is my personal Ground Zero, even though I haven't lived here since I was eight-and-a-half.
And yet, in my two days here, I'd hardly stepped on any ground that wasn't man-made: airplane to terminal, terminal to car, car to hotel, hotel to convention centre to hotel to restaurant to hotel to convention centre and so forth and so on; then hotel to car to terminal to airplane, and so back to Canada. I think I spent about 5 minutes standing on the grass having my picture taken, and I so much hate having my picture taken that I don't think I noticed the ground I stood on. So much for coming home...
It wouldn't matter anyway; I have so few memories of this place. I think that for children to develop proper memories of a place, they may need to spend a fair bit of time there, long enough that memories get properly anchored to the physical geography. Otherwise, memories may come adrift and get lost. My own kids have lived in our town for pretty much all their lives and their memories, good or bad, will be firmly tethered to the place: our back hall, the vacant lot next door, the bridge downtown. Stuff and places that they've seen every day of their young lives. Rootedness may have its pains and penalties, especially when there have been serious bad times or when home is stifling and confining, but rootlessness leaves a sort of aching void.
I've done rootless: four moves before the age of 10, ten more after the age of 21, including (all told) five states, two countries, and two provinces--so many moves that I was glad simply to sit down in the small town where we now live and not budge for the last 14 years. Some of the places I loved; some I did not. But the one thing I learned is that home comes back to the dailiness of things. It's a truism, when we think of places, that home is where we live, not necessarily where we were born; but it's true of other things as well. I have relatives who are close kin in blood but who I see so rarely that there's no real relationship. I'm sure that they're nice people, and perhaps we might be closer if we saw each other more than once a decade or so, but the fact remains that we're kin but not family. I went to college with a group of people whose names rarely ring bells with me and whose faces I wouldn't recognize, even without thirty years' imprint to make them different. If we don't stay in touch, it's hard not to drift apart. We know this in dealing with each other: why, then, do we forget it in dealing with God?
I can remember quite a long period when God wasn't a part of my dailiness. In those times, I found other gods less worthy to be worshiped, gods incapable of love or care for me. I found, for example, a god in church, odd as that probably sounds: I mean that I thought that church would satisfy my needs and look after me; I trusted in church, and I was disappointed. Like the state I'd flown into and now leaving, it could not now be home. But that was only one example: there were lots of others. Only when all my false gods let me down could I begin to realize that I needed God not just occasionally, but on an hourly basis.
I don't really like that old expression, "If God feels far away, who moved?" I know it's true, but I also remember times when God felt very far away from me not because I'd moved, but because some major piece of trouble or loneliness had come and sat down between God and me like a honkin' big troll. I couldn't seem to reach far enough around the troll to find God. But I didn't doubt God was there, close if not immediately perceptible.
But now, it seems, God-dailiness is weaving itself into my life. This is the point to daily prayers or some sort of regular discipline, that God gets woven in--or rather that our awareness of God gets woven in, for (of course) God is not merely woven in; God is the fabric into which we're woven. If we feel alienated from God, it may well be because he is so close to us; can we really see the cloth, if we're the warp or the weft?
I think this is one of the reasons I have trouble with the notion of separating out the secular and the sacred--keeping God for "best", as though somehow the holy would lose its holiness by being touched by the profane, just as a spotless tablecloth would lose its purity by being smutched. God is familiar with us. He is about our paths and our ways, whatever those paths and ways are. When, in the horrible course of finding a bathing suit, I shut the dressing room door, God is on the inside with me, not on the outside with the sales clerk (and if, after that, God can still love me, then God is indeed all-powerful). God does stay in touch. When there is trouble, it is on my side.
Jesus talked about wanting to sweep us all up like a hen sweeping her chicks under her wings--a metaphor of intense, delightful intimacy. Intimacy is also a dailiness thing. We can talk about loving each other, but if we don't phone, if we don't check up when a friend looks lousy, if we don't drop by with lilacs, a casserole or hugs--then where, really, is our love? We talk, we churches, about being loving places, but do we work out the love in practice? Illinois is my theoretical home turf, but it and I have nothing to do with each other on a practical level. Am I any closer to my church? Not really. It and I have too little to do with each other, and too much of what we do have to do with each other isn't intimate. I can't love it as it is, because it doesn't love me as I am, and vice versa. There is no dailiness between us.
When I pulled my nose out of my brand-new book and looked out the window again, the glass was no longer rain-streaked; instead, the clouds had parted and I could see that dim outline of a big river--the St. Lawrence, if I remember our flight path. Beneath me, there spread out a landscape spangled with the clustered lights of small towns. I don't know which one was mine; I think I was probably on the wrong side of the plane anyway. But I craned my neck, looking down, trying to figure out the street patterns, trying to figure out which one was home.
And then we tilted and the ground came up, nearer and nearer, and I knew that home was really not so very far away, not now.