The Aviatrix, Monks, Landlopers and Longing for Home

amelia earhart

Last evening I again watched the movie, Amelia, about the aviator Amelia Earhart. I enjoyed it as much as I had, the first time. I like seeing some movies more than once because the best films, like the best fiction, are deep with resonance and meanings that don’t jump out at me; on review, my mind links together ideas and themes that weren’t obvious, at first.

This time, a few simple lines of dialogue struck me, and as I haven’t been able to verify the exact words, I paraphrase here. As Amelia talked over the radio to her husband, he remarked that when she returned from circling the globe, they would go home. She asked where that was and he commented, “Wherever you are.” Her response? “I’d like it there.” It’s beyond irony that they shared these feelings right before she became lost, 75 years ago.

Wherever you are. This phrase might be interpreted in a few different ways. The first implies a traveling show, a potentially solo journey around the world where, whenever you land your plane or pitch your tent, tada! You’re at home. It brings to mind the spirit of the American West, cowboys around their campfires and homesteaders crossing the plains and mountains in prairie schooners.

photo by gayle lindgren

Even though I’ve traveled a bit and lived in many different places, serial mobility was a challenge. As a child, I was often the new girl, as my father’s career demanded; we called IBM “I’ve Been Moved” for good reason. As an adult, every move was a new home-making, fraught with frustration and confusion. (One of the first challenges was always finding my way to, through and back from the nearest/best/most economical grocery store, with kids in tow.) Even though I’ve settled down considerably, qualities common to many of my fictional characters are a sense of displacement and a longing for home.

A second interpretation implies that we define home by our companions. About fifteen years ago, I was blessed to fall among Benedictines, finding fellowship and education at a monastery near my home. Of all the monastic values, the words St. Benedict of Nursia recorded in his Rule about restlessness and stability impressed me the most. He mentions “gyrovagues” (translated in some texts as “Landlopers”), monks who move from one monastic community to another, failing to commit to any one and living at their ease until something disturbs them, at which time they leave for another, more pleasant place. “Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites.” (The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 1)

st. benedict by fra angelico

In my interpretation, St. Benedict wasn’t simply recommending to his followers that they commit to a geographic place, although that is implied and can be a good thing to consider, maybe especially so in our lightfooted (dare I say “landloping?”) culture. It’s a reluctance to commit to a community, to other people, that carries the spiritual risk. Committing to another person is the hardest work we face as human beings, whether he or she is a spouse, friend, child or co-worker; I’ve learned this the hard way, through trying and failing. We can’t hold every person equally, but when we make a commitment, we may do well to remain, to strengthen that meaningful bond.

So, wherever you are, who are the people where you find your home?

5 responses to “The Aviatrix, Monks, Landlopers and Longing for Home

  1. Beautiful and thoughtful. I love what Amelia’s husband said to her. I’ve felt that with a few people in life. Lately home is back with my parents and my dog. I think commitment is a beautiful thing, but the person must reciprocate or it becomes a dangerous cliff.

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