Nostalgia, Greek for the pain of homesickness, is my constant companion. I imagine that such is the case for many, if not all, immigrants, exiles, and refugees. Men and women who serve tours in the military, work in diplomacy, or drive a truck day and night probably carry it with them too.
The time of the setting sun, like nothing else, evokes the sentiment. Dante sings poignantly of “that hour that turns to home / the longing thoughts of seamen, melting hearts / the day they’ve said goodbye to dearest friends, / and when by love the pilgrim, new to this, / is pierced to hear, far off, the evening bell / that seems to mourn the dying of the day” (Purgatorio, VIII 1-6). He, il mio poeta, knew too well what missing friends and family and home meant. He was exiled from his beloved Florence, forced to live separate from his wife and family, roamed through a not always welcoming Italy as an itinerant poet, and died away from his earthly patria. Among the greatest blessings I have received reading his Commedia is a new and spiritual perspective on my condition as one who is away from home.
I have come to appreciate the gifts God grants to those he calls to itinerancy. Perhaps the best, though one of the most painful, is to have loved ones scattered throughout the world. I have blood relatives in Venezuela, Costa Rica, Spain, Germany, and throughout the USA. My dear friends live all the way from South Bend, IN, to Bologna, Italy. Right now my fellow Dominican student brothers are all over our Province and beyond. And I have brothers in the worldwide Order of Preachers, to whom I’m tied by charity and profession. My relationships and affections are truly universal. They have to be. I always rejoice that I could be home anywhere with any of them. I ever hope to see them soon. I grieve over their missing presence. And I am anxious for our unlikely reunion. My heart is tugged in many directions. I am perpetually at home and not at home; I am a citizen of Venezuela, Spain, the USA—of Italy by heart—and the world, but at the same time I am a citizen of nowhere. I am a third-culture kid, an existential exile, a pilgrim.
Visiting the Venetian lagoon a few years ago, my friend Claudio and I stopped by an old Franciscan friary on one of those small islands. There we met Fra Felice, who struck up a conversation with us. I told him of my multi-cultural background, and he looked at me pensively. He asked me, “Do you know what danger you will face?” I responded, “Yes, my identity might face confusion.” And then he asked, “What can hold you together, what can heal your divided heart?” Spontaneously I answered what I believe and ponder to this day, “Only the love of Jesus Christ.”
The truth is, dear friend, brother, sister, that no one is at home in this world. We are not meant to be. For here it is impossible to be ever present with those whom we love. Friends, family, and we move or pass away. Thus we are nostalgic. Thankfully, however, there is one home, one patria, to which we are all invited, in which we hope to abide forever. And until then, we can walk in pilgrimage through this valley of tears, with our dearest Brother and Friend, Jesus.
Image: Luca Signorelli, Dante and Virgil Entering Purgatory