I joked recently that I plan to spend Christmas Day lolling in a living room hammock gloating at TV news clips of people stuck in airports around the world.
For the first time in what seems like forever there are no travel plans for us this year. Our son and daughter-in-law are in Paris. Our parents are in Heaven (where I am sure my mother is slyly setting God up for a political argument). There are places to go, but no place better (for now) than staying right at home.
Curiously, that seems to leave us the odd ones out.
Home safe and sound may be the most comforting four-word phrase in the English language outside of Scripture, yet we seem determined as a people to deny their possibility. We have seen the restless energy of earlier generations become cultural palsy: ceasing to move is the one thing that beyond our control.
We seem addicted to the frenzy of standing in endless security lineups waiting to board planes. We drive hundreds of miles to demonstrate our stubborn commitment to driving hundreds of miles.
Not that travel is inherently or inevitably a bad thing, of course. Certain peripatetic Europeans pitched up here six centuries ago and in doing so opened humanity to undreamed of possibilities. Before them, the continent’s existing inhabitants lived, by necessity, a largely nomadic existence and created some astonishing cultures in their ways. Above all, Eternity bent into history when two weary travellers named Mary and Joseph found lodging in a stable.
Still, our mania for movement seems very far from that. Pascal famously said that all of humanity’s problems stem from the human inability to sit quietly on a chair alone in a room. We have upped the ante to a fixation with being part of the mob that is antic to just get from here to there.
Travel, G.K. Chesterton pointed out, is very narrowing. Its very point is to bring us back to where we began. It sharpens in us awareness of the infinite mystery of what is most familiar, that is of home. What happens, though, when the very notion of home is in the hands of a race of perpetual Phileas Foggs? If it was a stunning feat for a Victorian to leave home and travel around the world in 80 days, what can home possibly signify to moderns whose feet rarely touch the ground?
And yet … and yet … home still does mean the world to us. If we no longer stay home, we all yearn to be at home. In the immortal words of the great sage Leonard Cohen:
Without my sorrow
To where it's better
Merry Christmas to all. May our hearts, at least, be always home with those we love.