I’m always reminded of heaven when I’m on vacation, though maybe not in the way you’d think. Were you afforded a window seat upon fifty-one weeks of my life, what you’d be privy to wouldn’t be much in the way of excitement. I get up early and greet my family, kiss them goodbye as we part ways into the world. I go to work, do my job. Come home to family again. We do chores and eat supper. We take walks and sit on the porch. We talk. We laugh.
That’s it, for the most part. It’s an unspoken but mutually agreed upon goal that all is done with a common goal in mind: live quietly. It’s a good goal to have, and one in which we usually succeed.
With that in mind, I suppose you could ask what in the world we need a vacation from. Fair enough. It is a quiet life for us here among the mountains and hollers, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without complication. The days still wear on you in that slow and awful way that makes you consider whether the long string of your everydays is really just some long, unfurling tragedy.
After a while, even life in the country gets old.
Fortunately, that’s usually about the time I pack up my family and run away.
For the last few years, our spot to escape is a slender little island off the coast of North Carolina. A magical place, truly. The sort of spot where you can sit on your balcony and see dunes and ocean and deer in the same blink. Where the beaches are empty except for the whales and turtles and fish, and where each day the surf washes so many shells upon the sand that you could never possibly count them all.
I’ll tell you this, friend—that’s the kind of place that gets into your bones.
The drive there (about six hours according to the maps, about six-and-a-half when factoring in a few walnut-sized bladders) is usually an event in itself. We say goodbye to our little town, goodbye to the old men who seemingly live on the bench in front of the 7-11, goodbye to the mountains and to Virginia itself. It’s a sloughing off of what hard skins we’ve grown over the year, all accompanied by endless Jimmy Buffett songs and plans made not with the calendar, but low tide charts. We arrive not at a destination, but at a feeling. And for five blissful days, there is no doubt in my mind that I have exchanged the place where I was born for the place where I belong.
Yet five days, no matter how blissful, do not make a week. That’s when I start thinking of heaven.
That’s when I take my morning coffee out to the deck and see that wide and endless stretch of water not as the wonder that it is, but the wonder that it isn’t. It is flat, the ocean. Pocked by whitecaps and boats and the bobbing dolphins, but flat nonetheless. Not like my mountains. And though it is blue, it is of a greenish hue rather than the cobalt of the Blue Ridge. The beach is empty. There are tall dunes, but no tall forest. Town is busy rather than lazy.
For those two days between vacation and the resumption of my life, I realize this one truly amazing fact: I am homeless on this earth.
I can be comfortable here, happy with my mountains and my sand. I can find inspiration from them both. I can find a purpose. But I cannot belong here, not truly, and nor can you.
You and I, we were made for a place elsewhere.