I don’t remember the first ten times I moved place. Before I could walk, I flew. I know nothing of my first house, except that it was in Scotland; I saw my second 11 years later on the way to buy quiche; it was unkempt, then, weeds overgrowing its front. There has never been a time where I could confidently answer the question “Where are you from?”. Though I’ve yet to reach my 21st birthday, when I think of place, or “home”, I feel like I’ve lived a dozen lifetimes; I dread returning to those places where I once lived, changed by time.
My lack of a default home reminds me constantly that this world is not our home. My life has been times-over more comfortable than those of the Israelites in the desert, the fleeing psalmist, Jesus during his ministry, or the displaced Christians in the Middle East today. But it is nonetheless easy for me to understand that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 12:14, ESV).
Missing Scotland comes with the sobering—and yet liberating—realization that what I’m homesick for is not, in fact, Scotland, but some purified memory of a place that cannot yet exist. This Scotland of memory is all sunshowers and rainbows, wild raspberries in the glen, exuberant brooks and expectant ducklings, trees opening to castles and ponds and mountains. That’s not what the real Scotland is like—or at least, not all of it. My mind remembers being cold and wet and afraid; the sound of a school-aged smoker’s cough, the New Year’s Eve violently ill, and a restaurant that allegedly served seagull for chicken. But what my heart remembers is glorious.
Humans have a tendency to look at the past with rose-coloured glasses. The aforementioned Israelites, tired of wandering in the desert, even romanticized their time as slaves: “‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full…’”(Exodus 16:3)! They couldn’t—at least with their hearts and stomachs—imagine that what God had planned for them was much better. But the Lord sent them manna; then, as He had promised, brought them to the land flowing with milk and honey. The food, without the slavery.
When I was 12, I sat in a supermarket car park with my family on a dank Scottish day, asphalt and advertisements as far as I could see, as my dad tried to explain the new heavens and new earth.
“Dad,” I asked, “if the world to come’s going to be pretty much like this world, but made new and better, how are ugly supermarkets like this going to be made new and better?”
I don’t remember what his reply was, but now, eight years later, I maybe could answer myself. I’d say, you’ll only remember supermarkets and asphalt when you’re trying to come up with some illustration of Scotland’s ugly side, but in your unconscious mind, whenever you think of Scotland you’ll think of sunshowers and rainbows, wild raspberries in the glen, exuberant brooks and expectant ducklings, trees opening to castles and ponds and mountains. And that home you think of— that never was— points to what will be in the world to come.
“Okay,” she’d say. “You sound like you’re lost in nostalgia. I hoped I’d be over it, by then. Besides, I don’t trust you; you sound like a figment of my imagination.”
“But I’m not only spewing nostalgia; I’m saying that, no matter how awesome I/you remember Scotland, it still won’t compare to the world renewed. Remember the Israelites, complaining in the desert about how the food was better in Egypt? The food might’ve been good in Egypt, or it might’ve only been good in only their imaginations. It doesn’t really matter, because whatever good memories they had in the desert of Egypt—and, the real food in Egypt itself—was a small, shadowy taste of what was to come. The complaining was bad, but the nostalgia—the longing— wasn’t, necessarily, because it pointed towards something greater. In this case, really awesome food. In our case, well, we don’t know yet, but it might be Scotland-shaped.”
“Hmm,” she’d say, suspiciously eyeing her plastic-packaged chicken pakora. “You’re saying that the new heavens and the new earth is going to be like your weird filtered memory of Scotland without ugly supermarkets—but even better.”
“Yeah… pretty much that.”
And I’d fly away.
Siobhan McDonough ’17 lives in Kirkland House and concentrates in Social Studies. She is editor-in-chief of the Ichthus.