It was clear winter night with a sliver of a moon and the visibility from thirty-seven thousand feet was a hundred miles. Both the Big Dipper and Orion hung bright in the sky, and I felt like if I stared into that starry sky hard enough, I could look into God’s eyes. But instead, my emotions pulled me, and my gaze, earthward. I was passing over Kentucky.
Years ago I read a science fiction short story by Philip José Farmer that I have never forgotten. The crew of an experimental starship manages to exit the outer boundary of our universe only to find other “universes” floating in space. When they realize where they are, it takes everything in them not to panic from the homesick feeling that overcomes them. He wrote - “It takes a special type of man or woman to lose himself from Earth or his native planet, to go out among the stars so far that the natal sun is not even a faint glimmer. It also takes special conditioning for the special type of man. He has to believe, in the deepest part of his unconscious, that his ship is a piece of Mother Earth. He has to believe; otherwise, he goes to pieces.”
No matter how far we go. No matter how high we fly. No matter the distance through time or space. We always anchor ourselves in a singular reference – Home.
We were travelling west and our flight path took us just south of Lexington, almost over the top of Elizabethtown. Off to my left the lights of Nashville beckoned, as they have beckoned to many a dreamy-eyed singer hoping for country-music fame. On my right the lights of Louisville and all its commerce filled the horizon. A ribbon of highway full of headlights and taillights connected the two cities. My eyes were looking for the lights of the truck stop on I-65 not far from the farm where my parents still live.
A strange feeling gripped me as I followed the lights and zeroed in on the farm. I felt like a little child standing in front of the living room window with his nose against the glass as the ice cream truck ambles by. I felt like the child at the school bus window as he watches his mother wave goodbye and disappear from sight. I felt like the lonely college student stuck on campus during the holidays because he didn’t have enough money to go home. I felt like the soldier deployed to a far away land staring at the horizon wondering about his family. I felt like the tourist on vacation that even amidst all the fun and revelry, suddenly feels empty. Yes, we have all felt that feeling, and even after all these years of traveling for a living, I was homesick.
Homesick is a funny word. It almost sounds like you are sick of home, which is the feeling that most teenagers feel as they approach the age of maturity and can’t wait to get away from home. Or maybe a sickness has invaded the home. Using the word “sick” leads one to believe that it is an actual illness. Judging from the feeling in my stomach that night, I would describe it as a sick feeling indeed. Interestingly enough, it is a sickness for which there is no cure. You can suppress it, distract it, and work it to death, but you can’t eradicate that feeling. You can temporarily suspend it by going home, but as soon as you leave the comfort of your home, the deadly disease comes right back. Homesickness simply has no cure.
Within a matter of minutes we crossed the Mississippi river and put Kentucky behind us.
I sat there pondering the nature of our modern society and the speed at which it moves. With a click of a button we can connect to thousands, perhaps even millions, of people all over the world. We can share a snapshot of our life and display it for anyone, and everyone, to see right from the palm of our hand. In a matter of hours, not days, we can cross the globe in relative comfort and ease. We rush from place to place in planes, trains and automobiles always trying to arrive somewhere. We seem to have this incredible itch to move and connect that can never be satisfied.
A while later on the same flight, we passed just north of the little town of Burkburnett, Texas. Once again I followed the lights of the highways and streets and could barely pick out the first house my wife and I built. That feeling of homesickness came right back, but this time I was sick for the family she and I had made together. I thought about the memories of that house in north Texas, and all the other houses we have lived in. I thought about all the birthday parties, family dinners, school functions, sporting events, and trips to the emergency room. I got the overwhelming sensation that I was detached from life and watching it from a distance. Homesickness has no cure.