If I hear that song once more this season, I may just shut it off. I first started feeling a low-grade sadness about it a week ago while I sat in a concert, and since then it has amazed me how often it is played. Every single radio or Pandora station that features Christmas music, whether secular or sacred, runs it, and often. Yes, it is certainly way preferred to Christmas Shoes and Santa Baby, but since when did I’ll Be Home for Christmas become so popular that absolutely everyone includes it on their holiday album? Is it the one with the least copyright protection? And while I’m at it, who chooses the on-air playlists where it seems to play every tenth song? Or less?
Or is it that it’s just being played to the country’s somber mood these days? Or mine? Is there some kind of nostalgic ‘home’ we all long for?
By contrast, I think that when it comes time for me to Need a Little Christmas, it’s not I’ll be Home that cheers me, but Joy to the World that would truly raise my hopes.
So, I confess: this is a strange Christmas for us. We are feeling somewhat homeless. Yes, I admit, in a very, very western affluent sort of way, but still, homeless. We’ve relocated to the Pacific Northwest to pursue a new season in life, but it came up quickly enough, and a new ministry call among wonderful people has demanded enough, that we have not yet been able to put a home under our feet. Oh, we’re not ungrateful, by any means: we’re living under the generous and plentiful graces of dear friends who had some lovely space available, and our daughter’s family, time with whom we treasure immensely. But this region has just not yet seemed like home. The culture is yet to be learned, the strangeness of the place has not yet subsided. And then there’s just this gnawing and seeming inhospitality and unwelcomeness caused by the weather.
We’ve been in the Pacific Northwest going on three months now, and I think it has rained for all but about thirty minutes since we arrived. Yes, I exaggerate. But imagine my giddy delight a week or so ago when the weak sun shone so brightly upon my early morning commute that I actually had to put on my sunglasses for what I realized was the very first time!
Have you ever noticed how people in different regions of the country have these key, local phrases that make light of their absolutely horrible weather? Think about it. In Phoenix, they say, “Oh, but it’s DRY heat.” By contrast, in Atlanta they say, “Oh, but I LOVE the humidity!” In New England, “Oh, nevermind the weather, just wait three (or ten, or sixty) minutes and it will change.” (Chicago says the same thing. Of course, Chicago also says, “Yes, but we have the CUBS!”) In Minneapolis, it’s “Oh, but the SUMMERS are so wonderful.” (Apparently no one here is taking the mosquitos into consideration.) Denverites say, “Oh, but the snow is always GONE in three days.” (We even said that a lot ourselves while we lived there.) But here in Seattle, the key phrase of weather denial is, “Oh, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.”
As if good gear can substitute for the good feel of God’s good sunshine on one’s good, bare skin. Yes, one is outside. No, one cannot hear the birds due to the layers and the Gore-tex over one’s ears. Latent in all these regional phrases is the need a person has to make peace with the things about home that one does not like, or that actually may even be quite miserable, but must be lived with anyway.
I’m sorry. The weather here is Bad with a capital B. It’s absolutely gorgeous in some other ways. And we adore the people we are working and living with. But the climate has caused us to ask occasionally why people would want to live here! Perry Como’s local booster tune says, “The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle.” I think I would beg to differ. Maybe they’re thinking of the cobalt blue from hiking up near magnificent Mount Rainier fifty miles away. Or maybe the skies just seem the bluest to Seattleites because the hue so rarely presents itself. Along the way this fall, many have told us it has been an unusually cloudy, wet and dark winter. Curiously, they started saying that to us in mid-October, so perhaps we should have taken that as a clue.
So I’m overstating my case, to be sure. (Overstatement IS a communication form, you know. Truly.) But the rain is getting old. Commuting is getting old. Living out of suitcases is getting old. And in spite of the fact that Gail and I are pretty positive people, we both have been feeling a bit melancholy, not yet sensing like we’ve come home in the way we would like by now. Which brings me back to the overplayed Christmas song that a lot of other people may be enjoying this year more than me.
Today I woke long before dawn, walked to the farmhouse living room window and surveyed the advent of the last day of Advent. Disappointedly, I found that the sight matched my homeless mood. It was wet, cold and foggy, and I could barely see the road sixty feet away. Where am I? Why again am I here? I slipped on my feeble non-Gore-tex raincoat and took a long, long walk. By the time I was finished, the sun was beginning to burn through the fog, and as the fog lifted so did my spirit, just a bit. But it was also something else that happened, something timely for my need today. While walking through the dense fog, I had the chance to hear (but not see) great throngs of migrating, homeless trumpeter swans off feeding in a field to my left. And then to hear (but not see) even greater, more massive throngs of migrating, homeless snow geese off feeding in another field to my right. Lifting fog and contemplations of migrations brought some semblance of peace to my restless and homeless soul.
Maybe, in the grander scheme, we’re all still just migrating. Maybe that’s all we can do this side of things. The writer of the Bible passage puts it profoundly:
It was by faith that Abraham obeyed to go out to a place… in complete ignorance of his destination. It was faith that kept him journeying… For his eyes were looking forward to that city with solid foundations of which God Himself is designer and builder. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
I guess Abraham never made it home for Christmas either.
So, on we go. We all want a true home. This isn’t it.
~~ Migrating Heavenward, Weather Notwithstanding,
RGM, Christmas Eve 2016