For some time I have been convinced that England is, quite literally, a magical land. It doesn't take a long acquaintance with me to discern this belief. Apparently I rather exude Anglophilia. For my birthday this week I was given, among other things, a Union Jack keychain, a 5-foot scroll of British subway stations, and a book called The Inklings of Oxford. I whooped over the keychain, exclaimed over the scroll, and sighed, long and deeply, over the book. I began to fear that the effect of these new belongings would only be an enlargement of the achy hole inside me that throbs a little whenever I think of that magic island across the pond, and dream of the day I may finally set foot on it...
When I was small--and this is perhaps a common experience, but to a young and romantic mind all most peculiarly felt ills are one's own only--when I was medium small, say nine, or eleven, I gave a name to the feeling of hopeless homesickness I always got within a certain proximity to The Lord of the Rings in any form. I called it the Valo/ar Longing. I didn't spell it out clearly in my mind; to me it meant both 'valor' in our English sense, and Valar, as in Middle Earth's angel-like beings. Ahem, yes. True story. (But really, ought I be ashamed? Children are ridiculous, but not laughable.)
It was good to have a name, because I got that feeling a lot. Reading the best books, watching the best movies, listening to certain music--they all evoked in me this sort of searingly sweet isolation--a feeling that I was totally alone in the world, and that all I wanted to be close to was as far away as Narnia when the wardrobe's back was solid again.
I've since read about this experience, from C.S. Lewis, mainly. Perhaps you have, too (and if so, you've been waiting for me to mention this). His essay The Weight of Glory speaks eloquently to this as a human experience. I'll quote him briefly:
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.I used to despair when I listened to that soul-stabbingly sweet music. I plunged into it with a fatalistic desperation. It hurt to long so much, yes, but hurting while in its presence was better than pretending it didn't exist, this thing (whatever it was) that I wanted so badly.
And then I was shown that, yes, this longing was for the Person and Place for which I was made--my Maker and Paradise.
That hole, we're always trying to fill it. That's what obsessions are. Somehow I feel like nerds (like myself) exhibit this in a way that is easiest to observe. World of Warcraft crazies, for example. Harry Potter fanatics. OK, Lord of the Rings enthusiasts. But also people enthusiastic about anything, really. Somehow, most of the time, from the outside it's easy to see how the passion often exceeds the worthiness of the object. That's why it looks so ridiculous. But we all do it. We lavish the pent-up, well-deep desires our immortal souls are surging with on objects whose capacity is insufficient to hold them. And so observers call out our folly and we're left empty.
Of course we're made for more.
And there's more I've got to say here. But I'll save it for a Part 2. (And probably more.)