“We Knew we Wouldn’t Stay”

Old city quote“For most of us, being raised as foreigners meant our stay in [insert country] was free of permanence. For some, a temporary stay meant a year or two; for others, time dragged on indefinitely, but always, always, the time would come to say goodbye. Our parents may have chosen to remain, but we would leave. We were raised to be different, we were raised knowing we wouldn’t stay, knowing that as soon as we finished school we would leave and probably not come back. And for children in my family, American citizens, the place we would go would be the United States.” From Nina Sichel in Unrooted Childhoods

We knew we wouldn’t stay. 

When we were in our passport countries we thought we belonged to our adopted countries; but when we returned to the countries we called home, we and they had both changed. For the first time we realized that we needed a reason to go back. In the words of my daughter, Annie “I belonged to Pakistan and Egypt, but Pakistan and Egypt did not belong to me.”

That realization alone brought on a crisis.

Who else needs to have a reason to go ‘home’? Isn’t one of the definitions of home the place that was supposed to take you in when no one else would? Others don’t need excuses to go home, but we did. Perhaps this is when the realization hits us that we belong everywhere and nowhere.

And then there’s the problem of how to articulate this. How do we explain this phenomenon to others? We knew we wouldn’t stay. We knew we didn’t belong — not really.

The words from Unrooted Childhoods were poignant reminders to me that from the beginning, I knew this. From the time I was a little girl to the day I graduated, bags packed and ready, I knew that my time in Pakistan would ultimately come to an end.

When you’re raised in a community that believes this world is not our home, that we are just passing through it, you cast aside the poignant loss. Everything is impermanent anyway, some of us just have to learn it earlier than others. And all that is true – but the impermanence sometimes catches up with you, and you find yourself grieving, not even knowing why.

If we are limited on this earth to place, is it reasonable to assume we will grieve its absence? We get glimpses of the eternal, we know it is placed in our hearts, yet it often feels out of reach, far removed from daily life.

The incarnation was about God being limited to place and time, being limited to and by the human experience. During those 33 years on earth, he was a part of a community, he was defined by place. We read the words of scripture and hear that he is from Nazareth – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” While he was on this earth, he laughed and cried; prayed and partied. He had compassion and he voiced anger. He was fully present, even as he looked to something infinitely greater.  He knew eternity, and yet he limited himself to that which was finite.

He was a third culture kid. And he knew he would go back home. Yet his back home was the one where he really belonged, and the one where we really belong. It’s the one where all of life will make sense. Where every day will be better than the day before and talk of loss of place will not exist. We will be home at last.

Until then, while there is no place where I will feel fully at home, there are many places where I feel partially at home. And I intend to explore and live in as many of them as possible.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11

That Place We Love Most Dot Com

Home Two

The sign was white with bold, block lettering:

HOME. The Place You Love Most Dot Com

In my life long analysis and thoughts about home it struck me as a marketing truth. The “place we love most” with a dot com at the end — the grand finale. The advertisement was for a new housing development, a physical space not yet created, merely in the minds of the developers.

In the 21st Century there are many that don’t look at home as a physical place or space. If they did, they would be forever disappointed. Because home as a physical space was bombed, and all that remains are a few bricks and tears from your memory. Or home was turned into the parking lot for a zoo or an assisted living facility. Or home is so remodeled that you don’t recognize it for the sophistication it now wears. Where are the markings where your mom measured you yearly — age, feet, and inches written in pencil beside the straight line? Where are the neighbors who you never thought would move?

Instead of being rooted at one physical home, we are rooted in people and many places.

Pico Iyer  is featured in a TED Talk titled “What do you call home?”  He says this about international, muticultural kids:

“And their whole life will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them together into a stained-glass whole. Home for them is really a work in progress.

It’s like a project on which they’re constantly adding upgrades and improvements and corrections. And for more and more of us, home has really less to do with a piece of soil than you could say with a piece of soul. If someone suddenly asks me, where’s your home? I think about my sweetheart or my closest friends or the songs that travel with me wherever I happen to be.”

Is your concept of home a work in progress? Is it a place or is it people and memories? What is the place you love most dot com? 

“We airport hoppers can, in fact, go through the world as through a house of wonders, picking up something at every stop and taking the whole globe as our playpen, or our supermarket (and even if we don’t go to the world, the world will increasingly come to us….We don’t have a home, we have a hundred homes. And we can mix and match as the situation demands.” Pico Iyer in Unrooted Childhoods, Memoirs of Growing up Global page 13,14


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