For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and have are as like as a thing as its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
-Marilynne Robinson, from Housekeeping
The longing for oneself, I believe, is the most visceral expression of longing, for which so many other forms of longing are really a substitute. And while grounded here on this planet, we also long for something more, for, the deepest and truest parts of ourselves are both intimately unique and transcendent. This process of coming to dialogue with ourselves, as Marilynne Robinson so beautifully articulates here, is defined by pleasure and pain, because there is something in the space of the lack or the longing that leaves room for infinite miracles, for the realization of dreams, for the connection with the ineffable.
Similarly, the 13th century Persian poem Rumi wrote:
Listen to the story told by the reed,
of being separated.
Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source longs to go back.
That gnawing, tugging, craving part of ourselves longs to go back. And this longing reminds us that there IS a place (both personal and transcendent) to go back to. Though it’s so easy to get distracted along the way—with addictions and unhealthy love affairs and destructive desires—this quiet and loving voice of longing is really taking us home, and like an angel, [it] fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.