When the news is as bad as Japan's, he turns to the old sources of comfort

Gordon Stewart
Gordon C. Stewart is a Presbyterian minister.
Submitted photo

"Don't be weary, traveler, come along home, come home. Don't be weary, traveler, come along home. Come home."

"Weary Traveler" was a slave song, but like so many of the spirituals and the blues, it expresses what I cannot say in prose.

I am weary hearing the news of homeless people in Japan. I am weary hearing of possible meltdowns and radioactive food and water. I am weary of what human ingenuity has done and is doing to the oceans, the wetlands and the coastlands. I am weary of the things that lie beyond control. I feel helpless to help. I am preoccupied with sadness.

Carrying a flimsy box of books too heavy and too poorly packed, I fall down the stairs in my home. I'm not paying attention. Two days later I take the dogs for their morning walk and fall on the ice I did not see. I'm weary with bad news, not paying attention to my footing, not seeing the red ball sun rising over the white birch trees on the morning walk.

Like those weary travelers who had no control over their world, "my head is wet with the midnight dew," even at sunrise. I slip on the ice. My dog licks my face, calling me back to where my body is — on the ground on a street corner two blocks from the home we share here in Minnesota.

Maggie knows nothing of what's happening in Japan. All she knows is that she's here, that her clumsy, preoccupied friend has fallen, that he needs some love ... and that the sunrise is beautiful.

I'm a long way from the home I would like — a home where tsunamis do not leave people homeless and where nuclear reactors do not melt down — and I always will be. When my Japanese neighbors fall into chaos and horror, I can try to help through charitable giving and prayers but only from afar. I cannot change what has happened.

I pray that those who sang the spirituals and the blues as they traveled with a great weariness may become my mentors, and that, in some way, their hopeful tones will rise from the coastal people of Japan. Our enslaved American forebears dug deep inside themselves to a richer, truer place that called them home — to each other and to a dignity the world could not take away.

When the objective reasons for hope were in short supply, they endured. In the wake of a tsunami, the words call a global generation to travel on, even as we ache for each other from afar.

"Don't be weary, traveler, come along home, come home. Keep on goin', traveler, come along home, come home. Keep a-singing all the way, come along home, come home."

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The Rev. Gordon Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, Minn., and moderator of First Tuesday Dialogues: Examining Critical Public Issues Locally and Globally. He is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.

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