Monday, September 20, 2010
You will be a restless wanderer...
Recently for various reasons I've been reading Genesis. In particular the story of Cain and Abel. We all know this, of course. Cain, the jealous brother, kills Abel. This is really the first crime in the Bible (unless you consider eating from the tree of knowledge a crime). In the Biblical narrative God curses Cain by placing his mark on his forehead and Cain pleads with God that he will be killed if men see his mark. But God assures him that this will not be the case. God's curse is a lifetime of banishment. "You will be a restless wanderer," God says to Cain, thus completing Cain's punishment for the slaying of his brother.
This final phrase of God's curse gave me pause. To me being a restless wanderer has always been a kind of blessing, something I embraced in others and in myself. I have never really tried to understand or analyze the roots of this wanderlust. I've always felt closer to Gulliver (who must escape his Master Bates - joke intended by Swift I am sure on p. 1 of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS - and hence sets off on a journey) and Ismael who takes to sea when he feels a sense of malaise coming over him in MOBY DICK. I've always admired the need to get away.
Yet God curses Cain in this way. Thinking about this it occurred to me that the thing about being a wanderer is that there always exists the possibility of return. THE ODYSSEY wouldn't be much of a story if Ulysses wasn't looking for home. Goethe wrote somewhere that being an artist is like being homesick. The artist is always searching for home.
My mind remains somewhat muddled around all of this. But I think the difference between Cain and me (outside of the fact that I haven't killed my brother yet) is that I can return. I recall again those sea turtles eggs in the Gulf Coast. How they were moved to the Atlantic side, packed in their own sand. It is hoped that twenty years from now they will recall the scent of home and return to the beaches where they were spawned.
I have always embraced the restless wanderer in me. And, at the same time, I have always know that I can go home. That, in fact, it awaits me. And this is what God denies Cain. What is the journey if we cannot return? It becomes exile, not a journey at all.