Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
What will I do? What
will I do without exile, and a long night
that stares at the water?
-Mahmoud Darwish, from “Who Am I, Without Exile?”
What is exile in American culture? What is home?
The way we might define both perhaps differs dramatically from how they might have been defined a century ago, or how they are still defined in cultures less marked by our infatuation with transience. To know exile, we must first know home, and we are arguably a culture of non-places. With mobility a marker supposedly for our freedom, we fall too often for the lie that transience is the path to transcendence.
We have perhaps embraced the nomadic as a symbol of what it means to be successful. What is the old adage we use about our gain of influence? We say that we’re “going places,” or “on our way to the top.” Ambition feeds the lure of mobility, and we are tempted to take as normal the illusion that human beings are free agents, untethered from the constraints of place and earth.
Lest I seem to be launching a curmudgeonly critique which might merely fan the flames of nostalgia for a different time, let me note how this is for me confession. I am a prime example of the impulse toward mobility: In my fifteen-ish years of adulthood, I’ve made nine interstate moves, and have lived in seventeen different apartments or living arrangements. As I write this, it doesn’t seem possible that these numbers can be true – and yet they are.
And I am not alone. Read more