A bit of introspection, if you will this morning…
I find myself immersing in a strange topic lately: exiles. Really, its not so strange. After all, one of my name sakes perceived the world in which he grew up as one filled with exiles — wanderers who were cut off from the world they occupied while never really entering another. But notably, its not just my namesake’s work that draws me to the exiles dilemma. In about two weeks, I will chair a panel gathered to discuss the import of the exile in foreign literature; I will also present a paper considering Robert Penn Warren, the Southern Exile and the law in a paper I have tentatively called Re-entering the Loneliness. And in a few months, I will leave the west, and return to my home in the South, permanently I hope, though one can never tell these days.
I waffle between feelings of excitement and worry. Returning home is always exciting, and yet as a good student of the Bible knows, the prophet never can quite go home. He’s learned too much on the outside. He’s like Cass Mastern after Louisiville, Jack Burden after California, OfFred after the discovering the Latin writing on the wall… Things happen that render people exiles in the familiar places they occupy. And home never quite feels like home felt before you left.
A few days ago, I picked up the Hobbit. Its been twenty years (or more) since I read the Hobbit and I determined to read the book again before the movie comes out later this year. I am struck by the presence of Rivendell — at the beginning of the epic quest and at the end. It is a place that affords unmitigated rest against the impending tide of uncertainty — uncertainty entering upon an adventure, and uncertainty in coming home. Rivendell is a place where both the edges of fear are perceived, but not confronted or recalled. In the words of Tolkien:
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend, are soon told about, and not much to listen to; whiles days that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a good deal of telling anyway.
I’m not sure if my queries and endeavors into exiles (and my returning to a home that doesn’t quite feel like home) will afford a stop in Rivendell. I sure hope so, though I doubt there will be very many words used to describe it. Most likely, my words will describe the things along the way, and Rivendell will remain a quiet moment – a sanctuary in the tumultuous life of an exile.