Saturday, December 8, 2007

almost home

I’m sitting in the airport waiting for the final flight of this trip. It’s been delayed, giving me time to sit by myself and ponder, giving me a moment of pause before I fully re-enter a version of my old life. Though I’ve now been back in the U.S. for almost a week, it’s the return to Nashville that will signal the real end of this Africa trip. Even there I’ll still be in transit, surrounded by suitcases and without a physical home, but in spite of that I will have to take up some version of normal life and responsibility again. I have Africa assignments to finish, but I’ll be buying my own milk and cereal after driving myself to the grocery store. I’ll be checking in with clients and facing a mountain of mail. Though I’ll still have Africa in my head and on my fingers, I won’t officially be traveling anymore.

I’m nervous as I head back, though less nervous today than yesterday. Still, I don’t think my old life will fit me anymore. More honestly, I’m hoping it won’t, and perhaps I’m more afraid that it will fit. I don’t think I want it to.

I don’t know yet exactly how these four months have changed me. Has it been in big ways? Or small ways? Or somehow not at all? It’s in returning to Nashville, it seems, that I’ll begin to see what’s changed in me and what hasn’t. Though part of me doesn’t want to go back there, part of me knows I have to for a little while at least. I don’t think I’ll be staying there. That’s not certain yet but seems likely, which makes returning “home” even more odd and full of mixed emotions. After four months away, I’ve disconnected from the place. It seems a bit tiring to think of reinvesting there for a blip of time before fully moving on. But, at the same time, I need that reinvestment and reconnection. And, don’t get me wrong, I really like Nashville. It’s been a good place for me to be these past five and a half years. So, thoughts of leaving don’t come without sadness.

Already Africa seems a long way away. I know I was there, and I have the stories and pictures and souvenirs to prove it, but already it feels like another lifetime. What was so real in those moments has begun to morph into legend and fairy tale. I guess that’s what happens when you travel through time, when 6 pm to 6 am is 19 hours instead of 12 and you enter your time machine on one continent and exit it on another.

I want the true Africa stories--the everyday, unlegendary, this-is-what’s-in-front-of-me-today stories--to live long. Now removed from Africa, my time there seems too short, too cursory, too much of an overview, like a summary rather than a book. And while I hope to go back some day, perhaps for longer, perhaps under different specifics, I can’t really live in that desire at the moment because I also just need to be home. I need to be with old friends. I need something solid under my feet. I can’t yet strike out on the next adventure. And I’m not comfortable acknowledging these needs, but it feels important to voice them.

Home. I’ve struggled with knowing what language to use as I try to say I’m going back home. With no permanent address other than my p.o. box and no house for my bookshelves or dresser for my clothes, language about home seems false and fake. I watched the movie The Terminal while I was in South Africa. It’s a nice movie to watch while you’re traveling, and I feel increasing empathy for Tom Hanks’ character who’s stuck in an airport without a country, without a citizenship, without a home.

I’ve read some things lately about our home being in God. That’s true. I buy that. And there’s settledness in that. But, whether because I haven’t fully lived in the reality of that yet or because I’m still a human being living on this earth, it seems that however true my God-home is, my feet still yearn for a place to slip off their shoes and prop themselves up on a familiar coffee table when they return from their adventures. They’re not looking to end the adventures, just to have a safe, quiet, familiar place to come back to. But, perhaps being greeted at the Nashville airport by generous, caring friends will be that safe, quiet, familiar place more than I expect.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Your writing is amazing," is what I found myself thinking as I read and tried not to cry feeling your mixed emotions.
I love you and am glad you are "home". Can't wait to see you in a couple of weeks.
Your sis-Erin