On the Exile and Finding Home

On the Exile and Finding Home February 1, 2018

America is my home. After visiting, reading, studying, I have come to particularly love Mongolia, the UK, and Russia, but I could never be Mongolian, British, or Russian. Not perhaps because I would not find a welcome from the generous people of those nations, but because I am an American so deeply that I would never get the folkways of any other place right.

It is too late for me to leave and I have never wished to do so in any case. If you love her, you cannot leave her for all her faults.

My language, my reactions, my expectations have been formed here. As the nation changes, sometimes in directions I do not like, this can seem like an exile within my home. Many Americans, left and right, seem overly eager to flee the nation looking for something better elsewhere. Yet it is the experience of expatriates over the centuries that life is hard outside of the homeland.

We must never exaggerate change into internal exile, since exile is brutal, alienating, and nothing like discomfort with change. African-Americans were first exiled from their homelands through slavery and then find legal exile (segregation), social exile (racism), and a refusal to tell their American story. Langston Hughes sang the song of an American who kept facing exile. America kept not being America.

If you face a lesser alienation than this, thank God and work to end exile around you. Complain less and work more and remember to thank God when discomfort or change is not yet a literal exile, since in genuine exile:

You’ll leave behind you everything you love

most dearly: this will b the arrow shot

first from the bow of exile. You shall prove

How someone else’s bread can taste of salt,

and how it is a hard and bitter walk,

climbing and coming down another’s stairs.*

Dante knew. I have been preparing for a lecture for the College on exile and the last bit ends:

Only the exile can create a home where he cannot live, but where his people may find peace. Moses is the model: separated at birth from his people, raised an Egyptian, cast out to the desert, returns to lead the Children of Israel to a promised land he cannot himself enter. By God’s good grace, Moses created a people, but the father cannot be the children.

Good parents often make a better world for their children.

Florence honored Dante when he was dead, but his bones are in another city. He was too Italian to cater to city politics and too Florentine to forget his city. He was a man for a better time in a bad time. One way to read Dante (and there are many ways) is an exile defeated in politics, philosophy, and piety. There was no Emperor to unite Italy. The Papacy was weak and corrupt. Philosophers were interested in petty arguments and priests wanted profit much more than prophets.

Read more here. 


Dante The Comedy Paradise translation by Anthony Esolen Cato Seventeen, 55-70. Esolen is a national treasure!

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