When my daughter Belle was two, she spent a lot of time under our dining room table in a fictitious place she named “Scotcha,” which had a population of exactly three, made up of Jesus, Santa Claus, and the Chinese lady. I’d sometimes ask her, as she was sitting there having conversations with Scotcha’s notable citizens, what she liked about Scotcha. She’d look at me like, “What’s there not to like?” I’d leave her to her imagination as I went in to the kitchen or went outside to garden. For the longest time, I wondered not only about the place she called Scotcha (why was it under the dining room table?) but about its inhabitants, and then one day not so long ago, I finally figured it out. They were people that had made a positive impact on Belle’s little two-year old brain. Santa was fairly obvious, as was Jesus, but the Chinese lady proved a riddle until I remembered an old Chinese lady Belle and I once ran into at a store in Fullerton. This sweet old lady took such a shine to Belle and said the sweetest things to her (about how she looked just like her dad, and how that was a good omen in Chinese lore, and how beautiful she was, all of which made her dad very happy). It was no wonder, then, that she liked to hang out in Scotcha. What’s there not to like?
These days, I’d give anything for a trip to Scotcha, because if at least two of Scotcha’s three inhabitants find it an agreeable place to spend time, I’m sure I would, too. Maybe heaven is the real version of Scotcha, and maybe Belle’s desire to spend time there as a little kid points to all children’s innate sense that a place like Scotcha actually exists. I think of William Butler Yeats’s poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
Maybe inside all of us lives an Innisfree, a Scotcha, a place that beckons to us from beyond and calls us home. Such an idea has been celebrated in the history of literature from its very beginnings in Homer to the Harry Potter series to last year’s Pulitzer winning The Night Watchman. I used to tell my students that my favorite word in the English language was “home” because, among other things, it’s the only word in English that means its opposite. It is both a place of origin and destination, a place we leave and a place we hope some day to end up in. I would tell that this is why baseball is the quintessential American pastime, because we are a land of immigrants established by people who left home in order to find it.
We live increasingly in a world of displacement: displaced by famine, by war, by the greed of capitalist developers who don’t so much develop as destroy, and by the daily ravages of a thousand tiny gestures made by those in power who wish to remain in power. We live in a world that increasingly feels foreign to us, a world where we no longer feel at home. And it hurts so much because, I suspect, inside each of us lives an Innisfree, a Scotcha, a place where we long to be in the company of those we love and admire, or alone, surrounded only by bees, crickets, and linnets.
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven…
Heaven serves as bookends to the opening lines of the Lord’s Prayer for much the same reason: we know we are not fully at home, that we are in a place of passage, of purgatory, where the drama of life, with all of its suffering and ecstasies, serves as a purging of either our darkest sins or of the image of God in us; where our true selves either grow into maturity (into the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ), or fade away into dust from which we all came. And the difference between the two, seems to me, comes from how we choose to use our imagination, which is to say, our faith. In a sense, to believe is nothing more than to acknowledge our longing for Scotcha, for Innisfree, and then to work to make the places we find ourselves in from day to day—those places above the dining room table, as it were—into their image.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,
On Earth as it is in Scotcha, in Innisfree…