On Harvard and Home

(Cross-posted here).

Ever since I graduated in May, I have received all sorts of congratulations on my achievement. These congratulations have all been sincere, much appreciated, entirely understandable, and yet (I have felt) out of place – out of place, for the simple reason that graduation has affected me more like an eviction notice than like a major accomplishment. Indeed, graduation has seemed quite literally out of place in my life: an out-of-place displacement of me from my place at Harvard, an unnecessary rupture in the pattern of my life for the past four years.

For the past four years, after all, Harvard was my home. It was not just the place where I went to school; it was where I slept, ate, and prayed; it was where I thought I belonged. Despite all its many sins, absurdities, and hypocrisies, it was a place that I loved, and continue to love.

Now, however, my time at Harvard is up. Without any say in the matter, I have been asked to leave, have said goodbye, and have left – not my school, but my home. Where, then, is home? I have thought about that question a lot in the past several weeks. Clearly, home is no longer Harvard; graduation took care of that. But it is also true, though perhaps less clear, that home never really could be Harvard anyway. Harvard was never intended to last forever – never intended to be anything more than a stepping-stone. Life at Harvard was designed with an endpoint, even if that endpoint seemed impossibly far-off to my freshman eyes. Harvard, then, was never my home; I was just a-passin’ through.

It took some time for me to accept that fact. Once I did, however, I realized that the same could be said of anything in this life – for life on Earth, like life at Harvard, was never intended to last forever. Life itself was designed with an endpoint, even if that endpoint seems impossibly far-off to youthful eyes; and so home – true Home – cannot be found here. This world, like Harvard, is not our home; we’re just a-passin’ through. We graduate from college, but we graduate from life, too.

It is said of the biblical men and women of faith that they admitted to being strangers on the earth. This fact – that they were strangers on the earth – is, no doubt, a theological fact. But it is also a straightforwardly biological fact; it is a fact grounded in the well-worn axioms that everybody dies and that nothing lasts forever. The truth is that the faithful departed were not strangers on the earth because they were faithful, but because they were mortal; and so we mortals, too, faithful or not, are all strangers on the earth.

Where, then, is home? Where is Home for us strangers on the earth? The answer comes in the form of a question from the same old song, "This World Is Not My Home," to which I have referred: "If Heaven’s not my home, then, Lord, what will I do?" Heaven must be home – because Earth cannot be. Heaven must be home – because only in Heaven will we not be strangers, pilgrims, outgoing graduates, long-term guests at a hotel. Heaven must be home – because only in Heaven are we not just a-passin’ through.

Earth is not our home; it was not made to be our home; it is not eternal enough to be our home; it is not good enough to be our home. Those are facts. The difficult thing is to admit to those facts. Doing so is what distinguished the faithful men and women of old: not merely being strangers on the earth, but admitting to being as much. In the end, their act of faith was simply to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that they had not yet reached Home.

Harvard came and went in the blink of an eye. Returning there (as I have repeatedly since graduation) produces in me the sobering sensation of being a stranger in one's own home, a unique brand of homesickness which is at its core a longing for eternity – a longing for an as yet unreached Home. Returning, consequently, makes me miss Harvard, but it makes me miss Heaven more.

I am, and each of us is, a stranger on the earth; I have not yet reached Home. These are difficult facts to admit. But they are also beautiful facts to admit, for they speak of a beautiful Home: the Home which we have desired (knowingly or not) our whole lives, the Home made for us and the Home for which we were made. Harvard is slowly receding from memory and sight, as will any and all of my earthly homes. But that is all right, if Heaven is my home. And if Heaven’s not my home – then, Lord, what will I do? "The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door, and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore."


andrei said...

the question "Where, then, is home?" takes as a given that there must be such a thing as a Home

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, great perspective.

Anduril said...

You should read NT Wright's Surprised By Hope. He has some interesting thoughts on the subject of earth, heaven, and our attitude toward their union.