A few days ago Chris and I watched the Academy Award-winning film, Nomadland. The film follows Fern, a van-dwelling older adult, through a year of her life as a contemporary nomad. The film’s plot moves slowly through a series of small events, gradually revealing Fern’s character and history. Her future? Left in the air at the film’s closing scene.
The following thoughts have stuck with me….
Fern has chosen this lifestyle, with all its joys and sorrows. Despite its vulnerabilities, her nomadic existence is a rational choice. More than wanderlust, Fern’s dogged determination to wander the country’s horizons may be rooted in her realization that staying in one place could be just another way of describing a dead-end life.
Important older adult questions percolate out of the film: Why does Fern insist on this lifestyle, even when more conventional opportunities are available? How would Fern—or any of us—describe the purpose of her life? How can she deal with the tragedies or deep disappointments of her past? What are the real costs of staying in one place all of our lives? How will Fern’s travels end? What would it take for any of us to adopt Fern’s lifestyle, perhaps permanently?
The cohort of Fern’s fellow travelers calls to mind similarities with communities of faith: Gatherings of people who may be down on their luck, but who still retain the Spirit-given strengths of kindness and empathy that grace our being together. The hope of being known by others. Generosity that defies description.
Many of the people in the film, Fern included, are economically poor, but still rich in other ways. Their self-reliance and grit are always at the ready, their gratitude for simple pleasures is constant and their plain-spoken wisdom—some of it based in faith—is readily shared.
The film raised spiritual considerations: Our faith heritage includes “wandering Arameans” and sojourners. (See Moses reminder to the Israelites—Deuteronomy 26:5—and Peter’s observation to all Christ’s people—1 Peter 2:11-12.) The insistent nudgings of the Spirit—calling us past ordinary self-care to serve others in need, wherever we encounter them. Our sense of home defined by more than geographical location—always including those who surround us in love. Seeking what’s beyond here-and-now to find God’s continuing answers.
Perhaps all of us are nomads in some ways, traveling adroitly through life’s situations and circumstances. Ready to set down roots wherever we find ourselves. Able to make something out of whatever comes our way. Wondering what’s over the next bend in our life’s road.
And always, happy to be alive!