Notes from the Wayside - September 2022

Wayside Shrine in Strachocina, Poland
The Ludwig family closed out our summer this year with a visit from my cousins from New York, along with their children and families. For two weeks our house was filled with raucous, boisterous Italians, laughing and reminiscing and, of course, eating. What a joy it was to see my little ones meet their East Coast kin for the very first time, to watch them play with children from thousands of miles away who just happen to share their common ancestors and DNA. It was a wondrous, blissful reunion for all.

But these much-anticipated visits carry also, for me, a potent kind of sadness; for they are a painful reminder of all that my family left behind when we moved away from New York, of all the people I love who we said goodbye to there. And it is bittersweet to behold how their lives have continued to unfold: graduations and Christmases and First Communions have been celebrated, children have been born and grown up, people have moved and changed jobs and passed away. Back East, life carried on without us, and this is a wound that walks with me every day.

Because of this I have often said that I live with my heart in two places: one part is firmly planted in Oregon, where I have created a beautiful life with my husband and children, and the other piece was left behind in New York, where my roots are, and always will be.

I take comfort in knowing that this is a struggle Christ would have known and understood well, as one who also had to endure his entire life the tension that comes from living in two worlds: “for in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). Jesus was fully human and lived a fully human life, eating and sleeping and walking the same earthen ground that we do. But he was also fully God, and his roots were in Heaven, as we hear in the Gospel of John: “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23). Indeed, Jesus lived on Earth but was not of it, as his true home was in Heaven.

It would not surprise me, then, if Jesus himself experienced during his lifetime something akin to what we might call homesickness, a wistful longing for the Heavens whence he came. Just as I have always felt torn between New York and Oregon, two places that I each consider “Home”, perhaps Jesus, too, felt his heart pulled between the two worlds that housed him. Though I have no doubt that Jesus lived presently and mindfully, fully giving himself over to loving those God gave him to shepherd on Earth, I wonder if there was also a nagging sorrow for what he had left behind in Heaven.

I imagine that, like Jesus, many of us also know intimately what it is like to yearn for home or another far-away place, to ache for the familiar sounds and smells, things and people that are dear to us there. Perhaps we don’t usually think much about it, but it strikes me that it is a remarkable power God has granted to human beings, a participation in his very own nature, that our love has the capacity to dwell in many places at once. For while our physical body is limited by the confines of time and space, and can only be in one place at a time, the love of our heart knows no such boundaries; it can deftly travel across the miles to love those who are far away, backwards into the past to love people we miss and forwards into the future to love people we haven’t even met yet, or reach across the worlds to love those who have passed into Heaven.

After tearfully saying goodbye to my cousins this week, I realized that through the love and memories we shared during their visit, a part of my Eastern family will now always dwell here, in the West, and I’ve marveled at how our hearts can stretch across the country to reach one another. What a gift this dexterity of the heart is, one that brings us so closely in touch with He whose love is big and nimble enough to hold the whole universe.

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