Immigrant on this earth

A few years ago, we were moving from one town to another in the US. We were a young family with a 10 years old child. That Sunday, we were driving home from church. It was our last Sunday in that town. We had found in the community of St. Alexis in Lafayette a home far from home. I think it was mainly because our priest’s mode of being was the embrace. We were embraced and accepted for who we were.

I noticed my son was sad, sitting silently in the back seat. “I wonder,” he said, “how it will feel when we come back here. Now, it is home, but it will no longer feel like home.”

My heart was aching, but I tried to be a good father and give him some comfort. “It will still be our home, just like Romania is our home and the place we’re going will be our home.” My son didn’t say anything for a minute, but then, in a quiet voice: “In fact, we only have one home, and that is in Heaven.”

This is my temporary home,

It’s not where I belong

This song by Carrie Underwood has the same idea. We are immigrants on this earth. We come into a country that does not belong to us, and we are supposed to return.

Some may say that immigrants do not have responsibility because they do not “belong” to the country they live in. “Windows and rooms that I’m passing through,” as the song says. But the condition of immigrant cannot be understood unless we also see that immigrants still have to fulfill another call, that of shepherds. This is my temporary home, but it has been offered to me as a gift, a gift which I am called to return in Thanksgiving. Father Alexander Schmemann says,

The first, the basic definition of man is that he is the priest. He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God […]. The world was created as the “matter,” the material of one all-embracing eucharist, and man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament. (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World)

It is the condition of a traveler, to take that which he receives and offer it back in an all-embracing eucharist.

But there are so many situations in which we are immigrants. We travel to other people’s souls, and we are immigrants in their hearts. In a way, we belong to them, just like a good Dostoevsky book, that dwells into your heart and germinates ideas and even new characters. In a different way, we already have a home. This allows us to never be owned, but it also says that we do not own other people’s souls either. We only come and visit. And they come to us. Love taking place in a freedom in which we are fully connected, but we never possess one another.

In fact, the condition of immigrant on earth is living on a cross: as shepherds of that which has been gifted to us (the horizontal one) and as beings who are in love and yearn eternally for the home where we know we’d return.

I’m not afraid because I know

This is my temporary home

P.S. Prince Myshkin from Dostoevsky’s Idiot is an immigrant. He is Russian, but he comes from outside of Russia. In a sense, he is a foreigner. But, just like Christ, he is a foreigner who returns to his own people with a better understanding than their own understanding of Orthodoxy. He is an immigrant, an “idiot” perhaps in the sense that he does not speak the “language” of high society people, but an immigrant who knows better than all the others who they really are—promises of divine beings. Myshkin, like Christ, comes from the outside (from Switzerland), but also from the inside (he is a Russian). And, just like Christ, he acts and disappears in anonymity. Does that make his life meaningless?

A tree on a country road

tree, summer, road, nature, blue sky

A country road. A tree.

The setting of Waiting for Godot matches the condition of travelers that we have on this earth. We are on a road. We don’t remember where it began, and we are not responsible for starting it. The only thing we can do as long as we live is to continue traveling on it. We don’t know what will take place while walking, but we are given the certainty of a tree.

“Two Travellers, walking in the noonday sun, sought the shade of a widespreading tree to rest. As they lay looking up among the pleasant leaves, they saw that it was a Plane Tree.

“‘How useless is the Plane!’ said one of them. ‘It bears no fruit whatever, and only serves to litter the ground with leaves.’

“‘Ungrateful creatures!’ said a voice from the Plane Tree. ‘You lie here in my cooling shade, and yet you say I am useless! Thus ungratefully, O Jupiter, do men receive their blessings!'”

Should Aesop’s fable be considered the key to Beckett’s play? We are on a road, traveling toward Godot, waiting for Godot to make his apparition, while a tree is next to us and we don’t even pay attention to it.

The country road is the road to Emmaus. We explain to the Plane Tree everything that has happened in our terms . We explain to It our story about Its life, and we are amazed that It is the only one who doesn’t know the story, who doesn’t know that it’s not sufficient to stand and litter the ground with leaves. It must bring forward fruit. And we tell It what the fruit should be. All of this while walking toward the “end” of the path, an end that we “know.” But there is no end of the path if we remain in the cooling shade of the broken bread.

Verweile doch, du bist so schön!

“I’ve been here all this time, and I will not run away,” the plane tree would say. For the tree is a beautiful idiot, just as Dostoevsky’s Prince Myshkin. An “idiot” who makes no sense, who cannot justify his existence. And we want to feast on his body, just as we want to feast on the fruit of the plane tree. Still, an “idiot”does not run away and offers himself to others in spite of the evidence that this offering brings about no positive result, in spite of the fact that our eyes are still not open. And we feast on his body. Some do it in thanksgiving. Others, like the travelers from Aesop’s fable and even Estragon and Vladimir from Beckett’s play, do it without even acknowledging it.

Can we become plane trees that offer shade on the road to Emmaus? Can we become trees which, instead of offering fruit to others, offer themselves? There’s such a long way from an ungrateful traveler under a plane tree to a plane tree. It is the way from obliviousness to thankfulness.

O, moment, you are indeed so beautiful. Open my eyes and let me not run away.