I got an email from a friend from church yesterday, letting me know she and her husband are leaving in their RV today, heading toward Nova Scotia. Suddenly, I wanted to be in that RV, making the long, intriguing trip to what amounts to another place and time. Nova Scotians live in a different universe, I think. They have successfully bypassed the majority of modern-day urban insanity in favor of an indescribably happy and chaotic serenity. At least that’s how I perceive them.

My friend and her husband will miss church today, I guess. And they will not attend church, this one at least, as long as they are gone.  Which raises a question in my mind: do I have to go to church every Sunday? No. But I have to go every other Sunday because I agreed to facilitate post-service discussions. And therein lies the stress…of feeling an obligation that is deeply at odds with what I want for myself these days: the freedom to just not show up if I wish. It may be selfish…it is…but I feel the need to be able to withdraw without notice; to simply vanish for a week or six weeks or six months. So, I may “give notice” before long; give the organizers enough time to find a willing replacement and myself an adequate carrot to keep me going for awhile longer.


The tension within me is getting tighter and tighter: stay where I am, with its stodginess and familiarity, or move on to someplace unfamiliar but potentially exciting and revitalizing. Before I suddenly found myself in love with my IC, I was ready to sell and move on. Then, I decided I had to stay. But now I’m getting antsy again. Fortunately, she is ready to explore, as well. Still, leaving friends behind is hard. Yet most of us have done it before, though. That’s how we ended up where we are; we left the past, even the good pieces of it, someplace else. A place we might want to visit, but don’t necessarily want to live there.

So, I spend time online, reading about various cities, towns, and communities, trying to imagine life there. And I look at real estate listings, marveling at the price of housing in some places. I find myself drawn to places I have never been.

I’ve explained and previously written about feeling a sense of fernweh, a German word that translates as “farsickness.” Fernweh refers to “feeling homesick for a place you’ve never been or could never go.” I’ve been infected by the disease it my entire life.

Our list of places is odd and unusual. Tulsa. Fayetteville. Schenectady. Decorah. Las Cruces. And so on. One of our first trips will involve Fayetteville. And Schenectady. Because fernweh.


Lost. He understood that men were forever strangers to one another, that no one ever comes really to know any one, that imprisoned in the dark womb of our mother, we come to life without having seen her face, that we are given to her arms a stranger, and that, caught in that insoluble prison of being, we escape it never, no matter what arms may clasp us, what mouth may kiss us, what heart may warm us. Never, never, never, never, never.

~ Thomas Wolfe ~ Look Homeward, Angel

I am not quite sure why I sought out these words, extracted from a book—one I have never read—by Thomas Wolfe. “Why” I sought them out and reproduced them here is of no real relevance. Except, I suppose, that the words are true; that they get to the heart of the fundamental loneliness of our existence. That they acknowledge we never share enough of ourselves with one another to overcome the insurmountable obstacles to real intimacy. I believe the word Wolfe used with significant impact was “never.”

We don’t share because we are afraid. Of being misunderstood. Of being ridiculed. Of feeling shame or embarrassment. Of experiencing the dismissal of matters vitally important to us as frivolous or stupid.  Of seeking and expecting the tenderness of understanding, only to feel the sting of mocking laughter, instead.

Loneliness is born of fear and fragility. We’re taught how to be strong and resilient; what we should be taught, instead, is how to survive during despair and frailty. Strength and resilience, though, they are the goals; so they form the basis of our social curricula. If the curriculum were based on reality, survival would be on the syllabus. But that would admit to vulnerability and inadequacy. And we can’t have that, can we?


I wake up some mornings to grief so strong it could choke the life out of me. It’s grief, it’s guilt, it’s a sense of emptiness I cannot describe. And, on the other end of the fulcrum, there’s joy and gratitude and fullness that keep air flowing into my lungs. But “what if” scenarios run through my mind like runaway trains; powerful and unstoppable and deadly. There’s monstrous tension between what I had and what I have, what I did and what I do, who I was and who I am. Sometimes I feel like there’s no more room in my head for thoughts or emotions or ideas or dreams; a single addition could cause my head to rupture, revealing that everything is artificial—it’s all fluff and mush.


It’s just after 6. Two hours have passed since I got up and stumbled into the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee. I think I’ll stumble back there for more coffee and, perhaps, a breakfast of leftover arroz con pollo from last night’s dinner. And I’ll stumble on through the day. We have a lot to move from my IC’s former home into to her present home. After church, perhaps. Later. Later. There’s always later, up until the point there’s not.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Later

  1. John says:

    Janet, we have many commonalities.

  2. Janet Holt says:

    I’ve never heard of fernweh, but I’ve been afflicted with it my whole life
    It’s quite difficult to ignore and I believe it’s incurable.

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