(Thomas Froese Photo)
The view from a passenger jet in full flight, a reminder of human vulnerabilities as well as the truth that life can fly you to surprising places.
(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, March 7, 2020)
The moment with my boy had nothing to do with coronavirus and all these anxieties. But there I was lounging on the couch, and there he was, beside me, playing his guitar and singing about the end of the world.
It’s that JP Saxe song, If The World Was Ending. It’s a love song, really. One that asks, during the world’s final curtain call, would you hold me tight? Behind my boy is our large living room window and the trees and blue sky. I listened, like a boy myself, like I was lying in the grass under summer clouds, looking up. After some travels, I’d just returned home.
I think about it too like I’m back in a certain café in Kampala. There, like in my living room, I sit at a window. There I sit, in fact, just recently. I’m drinking red wine like it’s Communion. Inside the café, an REM song plays. I people watch. Outside, large drops of rain bounce off tabletops.
Across the road, taking shelter somewhere, is a Ugandan man with stumps for legs. He’s the sort of beggar you might cry for, but don’t, because his presence reminds you that we’re all vulnerable, all starving beggars in need of the same bread. The papers say the same thing.
At that café window on that day I read the global edition of China Daily, in English. Here’s a story on passports. For easy travel, some rank better than others. Japan’s passport now tops the list. Europeans do well, although Britain’s passport has apparently slipped to eighth. Afghanistan’s ranks rock bottom of 199 nations. Canada? We’re fifth. My Canadian passport is in my bag at my feet. I’ve won the lottery with it. I know it.
But a passport won’t do you much good if it’s the end of the world. That day’s newspaper also tells me this: 176 people, 63 of them Canadians, dead. Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashes in Iran. It’s the end of their world. Could have been you. Or me. Also on front page, the coronavirus. “We have very good monitoring and quarantine measures,” is the assurance of a Mr. Zhong. There will be no massive outbreak, he reassures.
Like my wine, I take it in, wondering. No, it seems to me that the only assurance in this world is death. And the best you can do is live your life honouring this truth, that this planet is our home, sure, but also a womb, a doorway, no more permanent than my son’s bedroom, the room with a poster of Bilbo Baggins, his fat hobbit feet taking him through his round front door.
Deeper inside this Chinese paper is a story on this, on leaving home, then returning. I myself felt like Bilbo. Left home with little planned, just knowing it was right and good and wild. Never imagined I’d ever sit in some Ugandan café, not me, the fair-complexioned, (okay, white) boy who’d have been voted by his class as the kid least likely to live in Africa.
But life can fly you to surprising places. Then you return to the place of your origin and drive the streets and visit the parks. (Now, where my old Canadian grade school was, aptly called Maple Crest, is a park where I’ve played catch with my son.) Then you ring the doorbell of the house you grew up in and, strangely enough, decades later it’s like you never left.
This is nostalgia. Mental time travel. If you didn’t know, it’s good for you.
So, just for fun, let’s believe that the world, in fact, is not ending, not rolling itself up and saying “That’s all folks!” And while doing this, let’s value the stories and memories of our lives, even as we long for things unknown and unseen, or things maybe just forgotten.
Because isn’t this why we’re really sick? And homesick? We long to belong. To be accepted with no fear. We long for that long tomorrow. This is where your fated plane is really flying. This is where you’ll be held tight and told it will be okay. No, if you’re given that divine grace, it will be more than okay. It will be home. Your forever home.