on homesickness

There was a moment, just a moment, when the happiness overwhelmed me. I was driving a white minivan through the sun-drenched outer boroughs of Portland, the one where the grass was already dead and brown, where the cars pile high in the front yards, where the hipsters are few and far between. Navigating the streets I know so well, driving on auto-pilot; almost audibly my thoughts came: I’m home. The sweetness inherent in that thought–of being known and wanted and comforted–is quickly swallowed up by the realization: no, I’m not. I don’t live here anymore. I am embarrassed, look to my left and my right. But no one is there to see my slip into nostalgia, watch my new life and my old cause confusion in my eyes.

It is so cliché, but it must be said: I am homesick, no matter where I am.

One great thing about being married to a counselor is that sometimes they give you free observations about your life. The other day my husband told me that to an outside observer, it might look as though I was compelled to seek out relationships with people who are very, very different from myself. Conversely, he also noted, it appeared that my family and community were consistent sources of comfort for me. These two poles on which I staked my life sometimes seem to be in opposition to each other: what is safe, what is unknown. What is comfortable, what is exhilarating. To pursue one means that naturally, the other falls by the wayside.

Last week, in Portland, I was fed full and watched my daughter play with her cousin, I attended a baby shower for my older sister, I went for long walks with my mother, I made root beer floats with my father. Everywhere we went and ate and played I was looking for others, the worlds hidden between, for the marginalized of our society. They are few and far between in Portland, a city that is supremely silly and somehow never satiated in the desire for acceptance. I walked into a coffee shop where everyone looked so exactly alike that it felt like a slap to me: the calculated outfits and language and coffee drinks totaling up one very exclusive experience, designed more to keep others out than to usher them in. I went to church and cried all during worship, aching at how wonderful it was to see a large group of people together and singing about freedom; I slipped away into myself during the sermon, thinking about all the people who would not be able to step inside these doors. Surrounded by family and friends, I couldn’t help but feel a bit homesick for the life I have created in the exotic Midwest, long for my neighborhood and my neighbors

Last week, in Portland, I was driving across town in a white minivan. I was by myself, driving to see very old friends, the ones who first showed me where the upside-down kingdom was. I know every street, have a story for almost each city block. I let myself go down the nostalgic trail of thoughts: I met my husband here. I had my baby here. I went to Bible college here. I met the friends who changed my life here. The other part of me–the one who grew up thinking that those who gave up everything to serve God–quickly pushed these thoughts away. I actively, aggressively chided myself into submission. Geography means nothing to me. My entire childhood was spent moving, every 2-3 years. What was important was family, the new church we were at, the next calling of God on our lives. But somehow I stayed in Portland for nearly 9 years, and the asphalt and the street signs and the brown grass in the summer has burrowed into my bones. I am homesick for a place. And it is completely divorced from any sense of mission within me. I just love it for what it is: my home.

A month or so ago here in the exotic midwest I went to visit a friend who moved into the suburbs. Her and her little family are on their way up, moving out of the cramped and crowded-to-overflowing house in the middle of the city. I am happy for her, even as I am sad at the natural distance that will come at her being 30 miles away. I saw her apartment complex, large and full of similarly placed families, everybody packed tight together, everybody trying to make it. The outside facade so clean, the hallways inside rather grimy. I instantly loved it. As I left, I let my hands trail along the walls, imagining what it would be like to move in there. It was then that I realized that I wanted to live in every apartment building in the city, in the country, in the world.

And even though I know this is not even possible in the slightest, there is a large part of me that wants to try.

The problem is: I have so many homes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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9 thoughts on “on homesickness

  1. Dan Antion says:

    This is a great post. You described very well a feeling that I think many of us experience from time to time. Sometimes I am homesick for a place that neither I nor anyone from my family lives in anymore. The memories are still with me. The milestones achieved in that place remain anchored to that place. I moved around a bit, not every 2-3 years, but it was fun to live in different places. I think I can understand your confusion.

  2. bobraxton says:

    I (personally) do not see “having so many homes” a problem: NYC, Fairfax, Kenya (Kibwezi, then Njoro), Saxapahaw, Winston-Salem, East Harlem, Gwynn.

  3. pastordt says:

    What a rich truth, a truly rich reality, D.L. You are blessed. Thank you for blessing us in this telling.

  4. suzanne says:

    “It was then that I realized that I wanted to live in every apartment building in the city, in the country, in the world.” Me too, girl. Me too. Yet home is so sweet. I am “home” now, in what you call the exotic midwest (it is a wonderful place, isn’t it?) but after four weeks of summer vacation (hooray for being a teacher!) I’m ready to go back home, to my now home, my dirty, sweaty, loud Caribbean home. No matter where I go, I’m homesick for something, for someone.

  5. Marilyn says:

    Home is a constant question for the displaced, the marginalized, the refugee…in my case the TCK and one who works closely with the others listed. We are a tribe of sorts. I loved this post. It is why I wrote Between Worlds. And sometimes the ache is so strong that it feels unbearable – I love th words of CSLewis “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world” thank you for writing this.

  6. Svitlana Avramenko says:

    There is some truth there. Certainly, we all feel sometimes like that. Very elegant post! Thank you.

  7. Bill says:

    Beautifully written. It is true, I think, that we all are attached to a place and separation from it causes pain. Sometimes that place is obvious to us and other times perhaps seeking it is a life’s journey.

    I like this quote from George Eliot, “A human life, I think, should be well rooted in some spot of native land, where it may get the love of tender kinship for the face of earth, for the labours men go forth to, for the sounds and accents that haunt it, for whatever will give that early home a familiar unmistakeable difference amidst the future widening of knowledge: a spot where the definiteness of early memories may be inwrought with affection, and kindly acquaintance with all neighbours, even to the dogs and donkeys, may spread not by sentimental effort and reflection, but as a sweet habit of the blood.”

  8. This captures such a hard-to-describe experience. But I find it so relatable. Thanks for putting the emotions into words. :)

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