By Benson Hewitt
After a sojourn of about six months from here, I have returned home for perhaps another six months (we may spend Christmas on Fogo Island this year.)
On my second day back home, someone greeted me with the phrase, ‘Back, again, to the land of the living.’ It may have been just a glib comment that I may have made myself to someone under similar circumstances, or he may have been knowingly quoting the psalmist: “I am still confident of this – I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13).
Regardless of where it was coming from, it got me thinking. I had been living in Peterborough, Ontario, with a population hovering on 100,000, and also spending a fair amount of time in Toronto, with a population of close to 3,000,000. In any literal sense, that must have been ‘the land of the living’. But, was it, really?
On a number of occasions I went to the Eaton’s centre, and at any time, I am guessing, the number of shoppers (or whatever) there, doubled the population of Fogo Island. Did a single person pass me the time of the day, or even make eye contact? Not on your life, unless you bumped into someone which was quite possible. Then the best that either of us would give would be a snort of sorts, perhaps. I attended a church service on Easter Sunday, at which there were more than a thousand in attendance. It seemed as if no one knew anybody else, nor did it seem to matter. The parson, perhaps with a little irony in my way of thinking, spoke of ‘abundant life’.
Back on Fogo Island, however, what a difference! Although the population is estimated now to be less than 3,000, it seems as if everyone knows everyone else. Friends are greeting us enquiring how we spent our winter, how our family is, and how long we intend to stay now. The interest is genuine. This, I suspect, is what the psalmist really meant when he spoke of ‘the land of the living.’ For me, however, the expression has a deeper meaning. It is the place where I was born, went to school and raised a family. I have roots here — living roots — I suppose. I have lots of memories.
In the past month or so I read a book by Karen Armstrong, entitled Holy Wars. In this book she writes of the re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and how the Jews, especially those from Europe, returned to their ancient homeland, after an absence of hundreds and hundreds of years. Even though they themselves had lost any association with the land of their ancestors, it was in a sense to them ‘the land of the living’.