I've joined the RFIS choir this semester, and this week we had a journal assignment about one of our songs, entitled "Home and Heartland." I wrote the following:
As I was preparing to move to Cameroon, one of my trainers told us he was about to ask something very difficult of us. At his instructions, we stood, closed our eyes, and pictured “home.” My mind flew over several state borders and back in time, and I gazed up at an orange mesh bag encasing several yellow onions and a head of garlic. I knew the location well—on top of my family’s refrigerator, illuminated by the warm electric light in my mother’s kitchen. A second image came crowded with a smell, the raw onion scent wafting out of a minivan as my mother picked me up from school. Suddenly tears came to my eyes, not the stinging drops that find me when I slice the flavorful white roots, but an aching sadness that poured out as I knew I was leaving the place I had called home for most of my life.
I am not a third culture kid. My answer to the question “Where are you from?” is simply “Michigan.” I lived for my first eighteen years in the same city. We moved one time, only a couple neighborhoods over. I attended the same school district from kindergarten until my high school graduation. At the age of eighteen, I left for Michigan State University, where I discovered a new kind of home. Living in the dormitories was quite the adjustment, but my twin sister was there, and sharing the first-year transition with her helped a lot. I went through some hard semesters, especially when my sister and I first lived in separate buildings, but the longer I stayed, the more Michigan State felt like home. By my last year, as I walked around campus, I invariably greeted people that I knew from classes, my college ministry, international events, or dormitories I had lived in. My heart felt like the hub of a wheel, connected to other hearts by conversations, shared meals, and common interests.
When I graduated, I had to move back to what I now considered “my family’s house.” While the setting was familiar, I had lost most of my connections there because of my long absence. During the year that I lived there, I tried to build these up again, even knowing that I hoped to leave after, to work internationally. Still, it was a lonely time, working almost constantly at my teaching internship and missing the kindred spirits I had come to love on my university campus.
And then I came to Cameroon. Nobody here knew me before I arrived. The cushion afforded by going to university with my twin sister, or returning “home” to live with my parents was gone. Praise God that the community was full of compassionate people. Both Westerners and Cameroonians took me in, little by little, teaching me a French phrase here and there, sharing unfamiliar foods with me, bringing me into their homes, showing me their favorite hangout spots. I took to greeting the women along my road, to trying to bring a smile to my students’ faces, until slowly, gradually, my heart started to feel like a hub again, snugly connected to the people around me. When my aunt recently asked me if I was looking forward to coming home at the end of my term, my response was guarded. “Yes, I’ll be happy to see the people I love in Michigan. But it will also be hard to leave because I’ve grown to love so many people here in Cameroon.”
Another song says “If my heart was a house, you’d be home.” Maybe it is that simple. What if home has very little to do with geography, food, or language? What if we are home whenever our hearts connect to those around us? Can we not say to those we love “Your heart is my house; I am home.”?