The end of a holiday is a bitter-sweet thing, the bitterness perhaps reinforced by flight delays or cancellations. But coming home is always good, even though it takes a while to collect up, or ‘recollect’, the bits of oneself that seem to have been left behind in various places, especially the good places. Memory is about recollection, about going back to collect things we don’t want to lose sight of, including things that help to make us like ourselves in a better way. Good recollection involves a mental revisiting of places and circumstances which quietly took certain things from us – among them the urgent need to get things done, to achieve, to make one’s mark – and replaced them with something greater and longer lasting. In recollecting these things, we realise that we have been changed in some way, so that although the life we are returning to may seem the same, we are not the same.
Homecoming is good to the extent that it allows us to draw on the moments and experiences which changed us, even if these have at times been painful, even on holiday. In remembering events and moments, both good and bad, we do not simply revisit them. We place the memory within the wider and deeper context of the kind of love which makes life worth living now that we are back home. We allow the moments of the holiday, the good ones and the not so good ones, to enrich whatever is good about the present. In other words, we remember and re-connect afresh with the good things about being back home – the cat or dog, the garden, the friends, the familiar shops and faces. These all help us to find an equilibrium during the early days of homecoming when, physically and emotionally, we seem to be neither in the place we have just left behind, or properly back at home.
Experiencing difference in the ordinary by re-collecting what was going on a week ago can help bridge the unsettling gap experienced in the immediate aftermath of a holiday, the gap between the ‘then’ and the ‘now’. Whatever the circumstances, returning involves an emotional gear shift (and sometimes a physical one), to the lower gear of what passes for ordinary day to day living, or to the higher gear of work and its associated stresses and pressures. In both these situations we need to re-collect the good, the steadiness of what was perhaps newly found in whatever journey we have just returned from.
Remembering is also a spiritual exercise, even for those who don’t think of themselves as particularly ‘religious’. Good remembering is a re-connecting with that deep reality which is best known as the love of God, steady, unchanging, unwavering and of infinite depth. Perhaps during the course of the holiday, there have been moments when, caught unawares, we have found ourselves confronted with this love in a moment of sudden and inexplicable sense of the rightness of things, of peace. Perhaps we experienced momentarily a sense of the deep goodness of things and of people.
Coming home to the news and to the plight of refugees seeking safety in our country is a stark reminder of the goodness we may have encountered in strangers during the holiday. There was an innate hospitality in the people whose countries we visited. Taxi drivers and hotel staff shared a little of their lives with us, inviting us into them in conversation. The people whose houses we rented, airport and airline staff, shops and ticket collectors whose language we did not speak showed us kindness and were patient with us. Why should any of them bother to be kind or courteous to a mere tourist?
The refugee debate (what to do with burdensome strangers for whom we feel we have no responsibility) is fuelled by the fear of what the strangers who come to our country might take from us. Much of the debate (if you can call it that) is misinformed and draws on lopsided statistics. If only we could set aside our deeply embedded and irrational xenophobia and hold to the goodness we saw in the people we met while on holiday and to the possibility of goodness in the people who come here. Recollecting the hospitality shown to us by strangers when we were on holiday ought to remind us of how we stand to benefit, not only materially but in many other ways, from welcoming the stranger to our shores. Why is this so difficult?