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.