Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Searching for home

While I was in Devon this weekend, I was aware that one of the other events/ gatherings taking place was a reunion at the school I attended in the army base of Rheindahlen (BFPO 40.)  We  lived in Germany from 1975 until 1981 as my father was a Forces teacher and padre, and the school provided for children living in the new NATO Headquarters and adjacent British Garrisons and RAF Stations. When I returned on Monday, my face book page was awash with status updates and photos both of the retreat and also of the reunion in Germany. Many of the photos evoked strong memories from over thirty years ago, and many of the messages and comments were moving and made me remember little details I thought I had forgotten.

One thing I noticed was that people had taken photos not just of the teachers who had attended (they look really old... but come to think of it they always did...) and of now adult school friends, but also of seemingly insignificant details, the benches and bins, the turn of a staircase, the old path to where we used to catch the buses!  I wonder if these seemingly mundane details are maybe the most important because they are invested with personal memory? As  one person wrote, "Goodbye RheinD, a part of me will always be here", and maybe it is the child walking and laughing with friends on their way home on an afternoon to which no date can be ascribed that is more real and evocative than the school photo or the leavers' ball which were largely planned to fix the memory and moment in time.
 I don't think I particularly live in the past. That time did have happy memories for me, but also less positive ones and I think I am a happier person now than my pre-teen/ teenage self ever was. I could understand the nostalgia though; many Forces children move frequently, different stages of a childhood can often be strongly marked out by different postings. This week  the old school and many buildings in the base are due to be demolished. There is a service at St Boniface, the church we attended. Inevitably there is a petition on face book to "save" JHQ (Joint Head Quarters Rheindahlen) to save what is to some their past and a childhood home - as the video in this link shows.
 The whole thing, coupled with the experiences of the retreat, now turning into precious memories, made me think about where we find our sense of identity, our sense of a place where we belong/ feel at home, the places, times and people who hold a key to who we really are. When we revisit times past we meet our changed, our ghost selves, our former selves which are now like different people, although they play such a crucial part in our story or our journey. The more you have changed and developed in your life, the more you will recognise this feeling. I thought of the famous saying of St. Augustine that,
      "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
One of the things someone said in our discussions this weekend was that we carry within us that image of the divine that offers us a completeness for which we continue to yearn. God is ever old and ever new, transcends and encompasses every place and time, is our beginning and our end, travels with us yet  always waits to welcome us home. Until we find our place in God we are never fully home.

And so it is with our past. It is a labour in vain to attempt to recapture it; all the efforts of our intellect must prove futile. The past is hidden somewhere outside the realms, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object which we do not suspect. (Proust: The Remembrance of Things Past.)

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