Each day I think of the day when I will have to leave here, and I am saddened. It is far from now, yet this feels so very much like where I ought to be, ought to have been, that it fears me to consider this inevitable. While some days are ever so hard, I have found a place where I may be, a people as cooky, and I worry its undoing.
To make an obscure reference to a book (The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia), I am the sort of person who would actually call closed businesses, friends away from phones, and ex-lovers to practice calling an estranged daughter — hopefully you’ll never be that, darling. What I mean is, I don’t live in the same world everyone else does. I am the sort of person found in books and fairytales. I am quite simply put, very much a sort of mythical creature, an imaginary friend who sits about on fence posts drinking pots of tea and whistling Annette Hanshaw. I am an outdated man, a character in the wrong setting, the wrong place and world. I am the sort of man who likes flowers, pie, and has honestly wanted to work at a bridal shoppe for a few years now, yet who’s also seriously considered being a paediatrician while teaching eight year olds about Shakespeare. And so, I am the sort of man who is often quite lonely because I live in such a world so opposite to who I am, because no matter how much I may love the beauty of people, I am not very much like them. I sort of just popped out of a spot of moss along a log one day. I am apart and separate, a different sort of creature, a ghost who wanders among the living in a funeral party.
I fear, when it is all said and done, my closest friends and those who know me best, who know me as family, really only know me a little. I am a pot who’s centre is far too distant to ever be found. I’ve been asked quite a few times recently, having been here a bit, if I feel at all homesick, yet the truth is, I felt homesick before I even came. If anything, I feel more at home here because I’m not the only one drinking too much tea and reading poetry — I certainly feel less trapped by past definitions (despite the prejudices that pop up) — and yet I cannot say there’s any place in my life where I didn’t feel a little out of sorts and away from ‘home’. Even with the tea here, I still miss those who know me a little in America. Homesickness, regardless where I’m at, is a kind of natural state for me. Yet, despite any natural disorientation, I quite love it here and wish I could find a way to stay.
Now, to stop defining myself over and over, I’ll turn over to what Peter calls every Christian: a stranger, a foreigner to the world, creatures made into that of another place (1 Peter 2). So truly, it is quite normal for a person genuinely reshaped by Christ to feel unnatural to the world about them. What I feel is certainly part of this, yet it’s also more than this, for I fear I have never even found a fellow Christian who I did not feel a little estranged from, like the rest of the world about me. This quality of what it is to be a Christian, however, does do something I believe is quite delightful. For, if the acknowledgment of a Christian’s ‘otherness’ is fully excepted and embraced, then a Christian is freed from what we may call ‘worldly bounds’ — if one is an exile, a stranger within the very world they reside, then one may be free to embrace the beauty of any person, any place — the social prejudices do not have to define how a Christian looks upon the world. So, while I may come from a place quite addicted to coffee, I am not necessitated to be either, I can very readily drink tea all I want. What I mean to say is, to be defined by the boundaries of existing with Christ is not to be defined by the boundaries for which our surroundings may insist upon us. Life does not have to rely upon the seasonal sways of opinions and finicky preferences.
Life, I find, is sometimes like someone you meet with a spark, a spark to have an immediate connection with, an immediate magnetic switch, a ‘destined’ clap of friendship, like a lightning bolt that draws people together…and yet, that is it. It does does not follow past it. I have spent the last three years repeating this tradition, finding and losing people I seemed to actually relate to, and I fear that in this facet of life, Shakespeare’s love stories are almost too accurate, for that is all life winds up being, the initial spark that will be swept aside when it has ‘run its course’. The Juliet will die, the Beatrice will leave, the Ophelia will drown. To make another obscure reference, to Doctor Who this time, I am essentially always wearing a perception filter to be unnoticed by the world about me. I will fade away just as quietly and unnoticeable as I had arrived. The spark of familiarity may simply not last. Most probably, when this year has come to a close, it will end just as the last few have; the initial sparks will fade, the friendships will dwindle away, and this wandering ghost will tumble his way back to another gravesite.
Forgive my weariness, darling. Sometimes even the brightest moon must hide from night to night, and I fear my wanderings have become ever so tiresome. Perhaps my cynicism is in fault, perhaps it is not. To make a better point than rambling on about obscure faces we find to disappear, let us think on Hamlet, for a moment, if we may. If by some odd chance we find ourselves casted as the ghost, then may we be the ghost who at least tipped the chairs and rattled a few chains. To quote Lewis, Hamlet is “a man who has been given a task by a ghost,” he is a man, a play, an entire script driven by a ghost. So, if we are to be that ghost who wanders about half seen and eventually gone, as we all wind up eventually, then perhaps it best we be the ghost who drove a prince to some great action. I do, however, insist that action be a little better than revenge and madness, though I understand a little madness in the process. This, I think, is somewhat of the point Peter may make, that while we may be strangers, we may at least be strangers who love those about us, who do as Christ, giving ourselves for the sake of others. Despite our obscurities, we may lay a definite weight about us.
My love, though this year may end as all others and though the little wisps of breeze may soon be forgotten, the wonderers be lost again, and the passing shadows may come and go throughout our lives, may we at least love while we are here, always kindly, caringly, and ever so gentle an affable familiar. May our hearts be as a kind Ariel, rather than a destructive Caliban. Your kingdom for a good heart, we might say.
This wandering ghost
Feel free to peruse my other letters in the Avon Epistles collection
and understand who I’m really writing to.
William Blake, Hamlet and his father’s ghost, 1806
Holy Trinity Church graveyard, Stratford-upon-Avon
C. S. Lewis, Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem, 1942