A strange thing happened to me today.
I was sorting through some things that have been in my basement for far too long, when I found the black, empty projector case. I held it, I opened it up, my hands touched the zippers again, lightly stroking that empty space inside, and I wept. I wept not for the item itself, but for all the moments that flashed before my eyes on seeing it again.
I remembered many Sunday nights, setting up that projector (somehow missing from the case now – I wonder where it is?), the weeks, months, and years all blur together, but the moments are as salient as if they were yesterday. I remember bringing my baby boy home from the hospital, wounded from surgery and on oxygen, hanging out on me in his baby carrier while I fiddled with those zippers, pulling out that equipment for an expectant crowd. I remember steaming mounds of food, Thanksgiving turkey for a few dozen young people, laughing, happy faces. I remember packing that projector away, filling a van with Hopi faces, listening to their stories and their laughter as we drove over the mesas, down the dusty road, back to their homes. I see again the mesas turn from brown to brilliant orange and then blazing red when the sun is setting, the smell of rain in the desert – but most gripping of all are those moments gripped in worshiping my Savior with those precious brown skinned friends – all through the eyes of that projector. The nostalgia sweeps over me and I weep.
These stirring emotions are strange – strange because my present is so full of the assurance that I am living squarely in the center of God’s will. I have no immediate desire to go back or try to re-create any of these moments. Yet I feel the same feelings when I stand at the ocean and the waves take me back to hours spent in childhood being carried on the waves of the Atlantic off the coast of Liberia. I remember the smell of the red clay dirt and the clammy feel of humid African air. My eyes drift from my workspace and I see that silly cup in the shape of a duck – the paint is cracked, you can see the lines where I’ve glued it back together, and yet it holds a place of honor above my desk because of the memories it carries. Sipping coffee from that strange little duck in a little snackbar in the middle of Amstardam, the din of voices from around the world, different languages – the questions about God and the meaning of life – all so invigorating. It makes me crave a shoarma bought from a little stand in the middle of the city, long for a cone full of hot fries and some kind of intoxicating mayo, and I find myself mumbling “ein koffie met slagroom” under my breath as I once again feel these overwhelming emotions.
I’m weeping for a time so familiar, and yet so long ago it seems as if it was another person living that life. I think there is no way to explain or describe the meaning of these feelings except to quote someone much wiser than I – C. S. Lewis got it right when he described nostalgia as the writings of eternity on our heart. Our longing for heaven, for that one good that will never end, is wrapped up in these exquisite remembrances, carrying so much joy and pain in the same breath.
“Apparently,” he says, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.” And here, in beautiful detail, he explains, “In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… If [we go] back to those moments in the past, [we] would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what [we] remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering… These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
I’m hungry for heaven. How about you?