In early July, 2003, I had an epiphany. I had just landed at the Hong Kong airport to enter mainland China for my first job after college (this was before I knew the Marists). I still had no idea how I was getting picked up, but I didn’t have time to be anxious or worried about all that because I was too busy suffering under the weight of my luggage. And that epiphany I experienced could be summarized in two simple words: “never again”. I never again wanted my possessions to become a burden. Now if I’m flying to a new home, I will only bring with me what I can carry without undue strain. If I am driving, I allow myself a carload. Anything beyond that is good for the dumpster if it’s not good enough to give away—you can tell I never had to worry about furniture (except for one time with the Brothers when we moved a whole house and had some professional help).
Most of these moves prompted me to do some deliberate paring down of my belongings. Occasionally, I would leave something behind to return for later, but in general I try not to keep a whole lot of things. Since that day in 2003, I have easily had at least ten “permanent” addresses; I also don’t tend to gather a whole lot of moss.
While I’ve always somehow been drawn to the road, I distinctly remember at least for a while when I was a teenager thinking what a wonderful life it would be to really sink down roots and become part of a neighborhood community. And I still think that sounds like a wonderful life for some people, but it is clearly not mine. My life as a Marist Brother does allow me to stay connected to a life-giving community though, even without being tied down to a specific place. There is continuity in the faces I see several times a year, beyond those who happen to be geographical neighbors. For me it might be the best of both worlds: being free to move around without having to be a perpetual stranger.
At some point in time, I decided I had a special affinity for turtles. Once I recognized how much I was moving around in my adult life and how relatively easy I was able to adjust to different places and settings, I thought that I too would live a life carrying my home with me wherever I went.
Maybe that’s naïve and there’s a deeper something about the experience of home that I am missing out on. I can’t say that thought bothers me too much though—none of us can have all the good things of life, and I certainly experience home in my own way. Is the idea of a portable home a more fundamental deception though? Isn’t home almost by definition a place that you leave and try futilely to return to, only to find that it’s not what you remember? The home I have just returned to has nominally the same people, but with nearly a year’s worth of experiences since I’ve seen them last (and since they’ve seen me). The lock, windows, and several appliances have all changed, thanks in large part to unplanned events. I left in a hot July, and now it’s a chilly March. You can’t wade into the same river twice, right? Regardless, I am happy to return.
Even as I’ve been looking forward to my homecoming though, I also know I will be tested in a whole new way next year. I’m still not certain where my new permanent address will be, though I have been considering three possibilities in particular. Regardless, I understand my position as vocation director will very likely have me travelling more intensively than I ever have before. Although I’ll have an official home, I don’t know how much time I’ll spend there. More than ever, I’ll be relying on temporary homes, primarily where I can enjoy Marist community.
Perhaps for me, home comes down to a question of intentionality. Is this a place where I can feel truly comfortable and accepted at a deep level? Do the people in this place treat me as if I’m at home, not through exaggerated hospitality, but rather through an informal lightness of being? Maybe when I get down to it, home is a place where I feel at ease raiding the refrigerator and where nobody would hesitate to offer leftovers for dinner, but also where I have something to contribute as well.
Predictably, both the “ear candy” and “brain food” this week are about coming/going home. First, “Coming Home” is a song significant to me, not only because it is performed by an alumnus of Mount Saint Michael Academy, where I taught for four years (Puffy graduated well before my time, of course)—it is also the song that starts the morning wake-up playlist for BLUE volunteers on their last day of service in the Dominican Republic. “Journey Home” is by the Bengali Indian poet Tagore, and explores the paradox of travelling afar to find oneself at home all along.
Ear Candy: “Coming Home” by Diddy-Dirty Money, featuring Skylar Grey
Brain Food: “Journey Home” by Rabindranath Tagore
Come back next Saturday for a new post!