This was written some years ago and has been featured on my website for a while. There it is accompanied by pictures and four poems by my father, Herman de Jong, written in Dutch and translated by me.
Terschelling is one of the destinations for Henry and Wendy de Jong on their seven week stay in Holland and Europe.
Perhaps my father was lucky. There is a place in the world that he called his own. It’s a wonderful place that he could visit and remember and which never lost its essence throughout his own variegated life .
That place is Terschelling, an island off the northern coast of the Netherlands. It was the home of his father, Hinne de Jong, who was born there in 1896. So it was my father Herman’s ancestral home, rooting back through Hinne to Kees to Doeke and beyond. For those generations, Terschelling, just 88 square kilometers large, was a world apart and a place to belong.
But Hinne left the island to serve in the First World War, and then to find work. He never lived there again, and neither, of course, would my father, who was born in 1932. Not all people who leave home care to return, but Hinne’s heart stayed behind. He kept going back, later taking his family along with him for visits and vacations, and later even grandchildren, like my brother and I in 1974.
Hinne loved Terschelling, and these poems are as much about him as about the author Herman, who took that love from his dad, carried it across the ocean and passed it on to his children. There it is even more widely shared — among the scattered de Jong cousins, and now their children, the island of Terschelling claims almost mythical significance.
Relationships with Terschelling are varied. For Hinne it was home. For Wine (Win-uh), Herman, Sen-se and siblings, it was a place of regular recreation and reconnecting. For their descendants it is an idyllic vacation spot and a chapter in our history.
This strong love of a special place is really quite common. Perhaps the easiest comparison we have here to our Terschelling kinship is the bond of some to their family cottage up north. But Skylge goes deeper than that for those like us who are not Johnny-come-lately tourists. The de Jongs, though not living on the island anymore, love the life that belongs only to native islanders.
For the Terschelling expats though, bittersweet comes with the territory. Herman de Jong saw it in his father’s homesickness and in his own, ‘pitifully crazy’ dreams about the island. There is a price for such love. Though it is freely given it also ‘owns’ you.
In ‘bittersweet’ and in ‘homesick’, the one half cannot be without the other — there can be no bitterness or sickness if the home is not sweet, or sweetness if you don’t feel at home. Of course you can avoid this tension by staying put, but then how sweet would it be? Perhaps the familiarity that comes from being not-absent moves the heart away from fondness. Would Hinne and Herman have chafed at the bit if they, by some stroke, had remained Terschelling in-dwellers?
For Hinne and Herman, Terschelling was never out of reach, but never fully attained. Perhaps then my father was unlucky to be so tantalized by this island, an ocean and half a continent away. Wouldn’t it have been better to forget about it and focus on pleasures nearer at hand?
I think not, for it is the unreachables that truly become us. By our very nature we cannot have it all. Whatever we draw, or claw into our grasp ultimately leaves us looking for more. Only when we recognize that the islands of delight we experience now and again are but moments in an ocean of grace do we catch the wonder of God’s gift to us.
It is God who is our all. His creation is so much more than we could ask or imagine, and we are destined to be fully open to its rich complexity. It’s not for us to be stuck in a rut, satisfied, for God soon prods us to look out and up, deeper and beyond to the abundance of being one creature within a vast creation. Neither heaven or new earth will quell this hunger within us, but they will open our hearts and minds to each new satisfaction and its Source.
For us, Terschelling is one island in a world of being and a taste of how it should be — always there but never enough, a home to visit, a sunny place when it is raining, a past with future and an old place to be new. It does not simply distract us from our ordinary lives but gives us hope that the extra-ordinary is possible and the desire to let it happen. And it gives us the patience to wait, even in difficult times, for the unbridled joy that Hinne and Herman have gone home to