Like clockwork, at least once a week, the wounds of dislocation, and that feeling of belonging nowhere, creep back into perception. The ache of exile is my muse; and it is my foe. Much of my work is an echo of Simone Weil’s: “To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”
But is that desire for rootedness only of a spiritual nature, or does it have a corporeal attachment to land and people? Or is it both? The fanatical nationalism that so many fear would err on the side of corporeal—that is the blood-and-soil crowd. The pure spiritual universalists would err by discounting the need for physical attachment to land and people. I believe it is both.
National identity gives a person a grounding that many of us, immigrants and nonimmigrants alike, lack. The reason it does this is because along with the temporal and tangible land and people, the nation has a metaphysical source (much devalued in our day). That source has vertical and horizontal bonds. The vertical is the bond between a people and God. The horizontal is a bond among the people themselves, and its elements include history, culture, religion, tradition, and language. Without the vertical bond, the horizontal bonds disintegrate. If we do not recognize this, we are doomed to be free agents floating around the world looking out only for ourselves. Thus, roots can provide the human person with a kind of national identity and patriotism based on piety and charity encompassing the spiritual and the corporeal.
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