I AM coming to the end of my Canadian jaunt, and yearning to be “back in Blighty”. I wrote in my last column about reviving memories of my earlier Canadian life, about the energising thrill of reconnecting with an inner child, standing on the bridge where I stood 50 years ago, about how I rekindled something of that child’s quick eye, and deep longing (15 December).
But, as Wordsworth says, “the Child is the father of the Man”, and the man wants to go home. So tomorrow’s homeward flight can’t come a moment too soon.
I know that the airports, like the railway stations and the motorways, will be full of Christmas travellers, as this season releases in all of us a deep homing instinct. But, even as my mind starts playing Paul Simon’s “Homeward Bound” on its inner soundtrack, I hear another voice in the mix, pointing away from all the sentiment and nostalgia, pointing instead to a strange Christmas Paradox.
It is the voice of G. K. Chesterton, and he is reciting his little poem “The House of Christmas”:
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
But that disturbing paradox about our homelessness in this world, our exiled longing for Heaven, is followed by another stranger, but more comforting, paradox: the Christmas mystery, through which heaven has come home to us:
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home.
The Hotel Lobby where I am writing this is saturated with the saccharine kitsch of Christmas music on repeat; I never want to hear another sampled sleigh bell or the rhyme of “Jolly” and “Holly”.
And yet, with Chesterton on my mind, the voice of Chris Rea, which has just emerged from the muzak, singing “Driving Home for Christmas”, begins to make strange sense. Chesterton, and perhaps Rea himself, would enjoy the irony of this song playing in the lounge of a swish hotel, for Rea wrote it 29 years ago in the passenger seat of a clapped-out mini, stuck in motorway traffic, trying to get to Middlesbrough. He didn’t even think he had a song, let alone a Christmas hit, and it wasn’t released for another ten years.
But now I hear him in a Winnipeg hotel, his gruff voice strangely harmonising with GKC, because all three of us know that the journey home doesn’t stop when the Christmas journey is over and we reach our home address. We know, with T. S. Eliot, that “home is where one starts from.” Yet we have hope for the longer journey, and the true Homecoming.
So, as Chris Rea fades out in the lobby, I turn up the volume on my inner soundtrack and hear again the great hope disclosed in the last verse of Chesterton’s Christmas song:
To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.