Cloudside

Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed these last few days of rest; I know I did—even if I didn’t end up getting much rest. I flew home for the weekend and did nothing but spend time with the people closest to my heart. We all spend quite a bit of time living on the edge of sanity, and when you just can’t go any longer without pressing the reset button, there’s nothing quite like a quick trip back to the heartland to put everything right again.

I know that a trip home can be a very stressful affair for many people. Many will only undertake the ordeal once a year (perhaps at Christmas), and some manage to avoid it altogether. Indeed, avoiding holidays with the family has spawned a whole sub-genre of hilarious Hollywood films.

In all seriousness, though, I can’t think of anything more sad. I love my life and I love what I do here in Boston, but home remains the ultimate refuge for me. Especially in the last days of winter, I can’t help but find myself agreeing with Michael Bublé:

Another winter day
Has come and gone away
In either Paris or Rome
And I want to go home.
Let me go home…

Of course, the whole point of that song is that the singer misses people, not a place, and I certainly don’t disagree. To splice two unabashed clichés in a way that high school English teachers assured me only I was capable of doing, home is where the heart is, and there’s no place like it.

Speaking for myself, I have to say that it can be very easy to get lost out here—and all of us have an “out here,” wherever it may be. With the incessant grind of the daily routine and the demands of my degree pressing down on me, I frequently forget to lift my eyes heavenward and remember that everything is under control. For my whole life—and even more so now—I’ve been blessed to have people in my life who can remind me of that, but very few of those people are here.

That’s why going home is important to me: it reminds me of what I believe and who I am. Here, people’s expectations of me may be academic or professional; there, expectations of me are based in character and love. Here, my obligations consist mainly of reading and writing—both things I enjoy very much, but can become rather checklist-y after a while. There, my “obligations,” if they could be called such, comprise conversing with the people I love and digging for new ways to brighten their days. Here, I have to do; there, I get to be. Like I said, there’s nothing else quite like it.

On the other hand, everything I just described also makes it much more difficult to turn around and leave home when vacation time comes to an end. It’s not that I dread what I’m returning to—far from it. It’s just that the transition can be a bit bumpy. Once I’m back “in gear,” motivating myself to work hard and stay focused is not (usually) much of a problem. It’s getting in gear in the first place that can be a problem. I’m not going to lie: there was a moment in the airport this morning when I almost hoped I’d miss my flight.

I think it’s because I spend so much of my time with my eyes down. Skimming textbooks. Watching myself type (I know I’m not supposed to, but I missed that day in sixth grade). Seeing lines of notes and articles and e-mails fill my screen, waiting to be dealt with and replaced with the next in line. Shielding my eyes from snow, wind, rain, and Boston’s special mixture of all three. Texting or reading or even eating while walking because there’s no time to do it any time else…

Down, down, down. Even staring straight ahead is, in its own way, a way of looking down.

At home, by contrast, I think I spend a lot of time looking around. Across the table at family members I’ve missed, and who have grown since I saw them last. Over the heads of the congregation at church, where I can recognize most of them even from the back. Out at the familiar skyline of the city where I grew up, out of the window of the plane as it lands and again as it takes off, out to the dim edge of the treeline where silhouettes of swift deer skim across a frozen pond on a late winter’s night.

Into the eyes of someone I love.

Perhaps this is why I hesitate to return: because I anticipate going back to constantly looking down. It sounds silly, but the right combination of work, late hours, and foul weather can make even the most optimistic of us forget to look up and around.

Luckily, I was given a reminder of all of this early yesterday morning, as my plane lifted off into the sky. The morning was a dim one, with a few snow flurries still dancing in the air from the night before. Winter light is rarely bright, and this morning’s sun had not yet won its daily battle against the clouds. I had just been served coffee and cracked open the one casebook I had had the foresight to bring with me, ready to make painful but efficient use of the flight. The prospect of long weeks of work stretched ahead of me, as bleak as the morning sky.

Just then, the plane eased cloudside and into the realm where the sun reigns supreme. A warm glow filled the cabin, and I saw the sun as I haven’t seen it for months. Of course, I thought to myself, smiling; it’s been here all along. We all know that.

But there’s a difference between knowing that and actually seeing it. There’s a difference between the hypothetical and the real. You can know and know and know something, but experiencing it for yourself is worth a thousand treatises on the subject—and it never gets old.

Yes, spending a couple of hours cloudside this morning reminded me of a two things:

First, the best thing to do in times of trouble is to lift my eyes to the skies—”from whence cometh my help,” if I may substitute the skies for the hills.

And second, the love and support and understanding that I experience unconditionally at home does not evaporate with distance and time. The clouds may come and go, but above them all, that sunshine always stays the same.

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