“It May Take Some Time to Breathe”

As I got off the plane on Sunday night, I felt  familiar tightening in my chest. I have lived in Cambridge now for eight years, yet I still feel what is almost like a panic attack come over me as I walk from the plane, through the long gateway, into the terminal. It’s hard to breathe. 

During the first day I’m back I always have to bake bread. It’s a formal way of saying “I’m here. I belong. I can now breathe.”

“I was in the house only five minutes when I began to make bread, desperate to belong, aching to make this not feel like I’m in a strange, alien land where I will never truly belong. This is ridiculous. I’ve lived here seven years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere. Why do I feel this way?” from Baking Bread, Creating Home 

When the bread is done, I find I catch my breath and relax, I take in gulps of air and breathe. Breathing is somehow part of belonging. 

A few weeks ago, Elizabeth Trotter wrote a post called “When a Country is Etched into your Soul” for A Life Overseas. Her words spoke my heart and in a comment to her, I said this:

“Our creator built into us a longing and connection to place. Look at the Incarnation – God linked to time and place through the person of Christ. So displacement, whatever form it takes, causes a certain amount of pain. We were born to belong.”

I was born to belong. You were born to belong. We were born to belong.

To belong –  to be attached or bound by birth, allegiance, or dependency —usually used with to <they belong to their homeland>.

Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician whom I’ve referenced before, speaks a lot about belonging:

“He who once had the experience of belonging to place, always finds a place for himself afterwards; whereas he who has been deprived of it, searches everywhere in vain.”

You have to have a place before you can leave a place. You have to have a self, before you can give of your self. You have to have a home before you can leave a home.

 Home, belonging, place — the words are connected, woven together, tapestry like. We try to separate them, only to weave them together once again.

During my trip I heard story after story of leaving home, of displacement. I am acutely aware that this catching my breath, this reaching and aching to belong is not just a third culture kid phenomenon. Home and belonging are hard concepts to grasp for many in our world. The immigrant, refugee, third culture kid, expat — all experience a painful though expanded view of home. I also feel the inadequacy of words to describe home and belonging. Though there is much written about this, and much of it good, I still find I need better words. There is something missing.

Until I read this short haiku written by a friend of mine. He was able to accomplish in six short lines what few can ever accomplish.

home’s the skin we live
in, moving its shedding; you
now new and tender

they say you leave your
heart, i say your lungs; it may
take some time to breathe

From Haiku on Moving – For Friends Newly Moved by Neil Das

“It may take some time to breathe.”  That’s it. You leave your lungs. So I stop and give myself time to catch my breath; time to bake bread; time to breathe.

9 thoughts on ““It May Take Some Time to Breathe”

  1. What a wonderul way of expressing this experience! And THANK YOU for not just talking the major transitions – it really does happen every time I travel from one home to another…

    Just came across this video which seems so pertinent.


  2. Me too! I’m currently trying to wrap my brain around being in North America after a short trip to Brazil. I’ve lived here a majority of my life now, so why is it still difficult? And it’s not like being in Brazil was home–I struggled with my chopped Portuguese, tense and gender eluded my clumsy tongue, the country had changed in my absence, I’d changed. But still this sense of waiting for the next trip haunts me. I’m learning to live in the tension.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Actually I have hurt for so long and so deeply that I have come to think this is on purpose, God’s design, in a way. The human heart is never really at home on earth; we are made for a different, better place, and we will keep on hurting at some level until we get home to heaven. We all long for a perfection that does not, cannot exist in this pain-filled world we (collectively) have made.
    So to function here, I have to lift my eyes beyond this scene and look toward the home that Jesus has gone to prepare for me/us. That’s when I can catch my breath–and a measure of peace enters my heart…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love Paul Tournier’s quote! And your paraphrase of it: “You have to have a place before you can leave a place. You have to have a self, before you can give of your self. You have to have a home before you can leave a home.”

    Reminds me of something a French Catholic priest told me here in Cambodia: “If you cannot love the place you come from, you cannot love the place you go to.” (I talked about that conversation here — http://trotters41.com/2012/07/01/ministry-lessons-from-a-french-catholic-priest-and-a-khmer-worship-service/ )

    And also this: “You leave your lungs. It may take some time to breathe.” Wow. Just wow. So glad you took some time to bake bread and to breathe.


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