Chicago Diarist: Nowhere to Lay His Head

(I wrote this in June 2010)

The storms on Wednesday night were very intense out here. We lost power before 6 p.m. After the cell passed, we called ComEd for an estimate of its return. The hour came and went, and so we went to a hotel. A baby girl in our care needed a nebulizer, and everyone wanted to bathe in warm water, so the choice was not difficult.

Two adults, a two year old, and a ten month old in one hotel room is not a recipe for a restful night, with power or without. But, as my wife likes to point out, there are people in the world with real problems. We did all right. While we were sleeping, or trying to, the Sox completed their sweep of Atlanta, and that’s the important thing anyway. In the morning I brought up one of those hotel luggage carts to haul away our pack and play and assorted gear. Thanks to many nights spent at the local Comfort Suites with his grandparents, Soren is an avid enthusiast of riding these contraptions. After hours of sequestration and storms before that, the sun was shining through the window at the end of the hall, and it suddenly filled me with an exhausted kind of optimism:

And now the sun’s comin’ up
And I’m riding with Lady Luck
Freeways, cars and trucks
The stars beginning to fade

My childhood experience of hotels was a happy one, by and large–family trips to D.C., Door County, Quebec, California, what have you–adventure surrounded by love and security. As an adult it has not necessarily been so. That bright window brought me back, in a moment, to Wendover, Kearney, Ogallala, Cedar City, Mammoth, Las Vegas, Reno, any number of places I spent one solitary night between regret and anticipation, when the day ahead promised something and somewhere better than the day behind. Hotels are not only a place that is no place, they are a time that is no time.

Thus I had to keep reminding myself that it was going to be Sunday, a day on which we heard the most likely authentic words of Jesus:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I’ve always gotten a kind of peripatetic thrill from these words, awful as they are. Part of it is their sheer vitality, which suggests strongly to me (and others) the voice of the man himself rather than a recorder with ulterior motives; part of it is their austere call to rootlessness, which is electrifying. I remember reading this passage to a fellow Deep Springer as we broke camp outside of North Platte, Nebraska on our way from Chicago to Denver. I preached on it in Bond Chapel, when I was deep in my Kierkegaard/Bonhoeffer phase (not that it has ended, mind you). It has more romance for modern people, who are largely more rootless than Jesus and his hapless interlocutors. The passage has a Tom Waitsian glamor, a whiff of the bohemian to it that an intensely land and family based society would not expect.

And yet here (or there, or elsewhere) we are. We are caring for a little girl who has a place to lay her head but is otherwise between homes. We have put our hands to plows–vocation, marriage, family, what have you–that we risk losing utterly if we look back too long or too fondly. Soren adores our girl, to the point of furious distraction when we try to keep him from her as she sleeps. And yet someday, soon or late, she will go elsewhere, and he will be too young to understand and we will be old enough but still in sorrow. But as I have told people who have been honest enough to ask, that is what life is: a series of unexpected greetings and unprepared farewells, framed in the bright sun of a window that may as well be anywhere.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: