As I write, I'm sitting at my parents' rather large dining room table, watching my dad wrap old dishes in newspaper and put them in a box. I have seen more old things from my childhood in this brief stay at home than I ever recall seeing during my college years. My parents are in the process of packing to move from the small apartment they've lived in for the past 10 years to a new house on the south side of town, farther into Lincoln County than they were before.
This is weird.
Though I spent most of the last 10 years not living at home - dorms on campus, a house in Oxford, England, and most recently, an apartment in Waco, TX - it still feels as though this apartment is home. I lived here all through high school. This is where I came home to during college to do laundry. That couch in the corner is where I was first informed that I was getting a car for Christmas, and I came running down that hallway to tell my parents that Baylor had accepted me into their graduate program. For the longest time, this has been home.
"Home" is a strange concept for me, and probably for any 20-something in America today. Most of us leave the place that has been home for a long time at 18, and rarely return. Many of us live in the same houses from birth to age 18. Even with the increase in divorces and single parent households, many of us have a good conception of what it means to be home: family, friends, a familiar area, and not having to pay to do laundry.
By this definition (excepting the last qualification), I find myself having homes everywhere.
When I came back from Oxford, I wrote of this same phenomenon: My home had recreated itself on Crick Road in Oxford, England, and everything that had been familiar now had to be re-learned.
With each trip home, I find myself relearning the city I spent the first 22 years of my life in. Sioux Falls has changed in many ways, adding more businesses, more people, and more diversity. My "home," in some respects, no longer looks like the home I knew and loved (and occasionally hated).
People move. People migrate. People create new homes.
This is one thing I've learned growing up. Whenever I pictured my future, I usually saw myself settled down somewhere, probably still in Sioux Falls, owning a house, with a grill on the back porch, and a steady job teaching somewhere. In that thought, I had two kids, a loving husband, and a house I'd decorated myself. Oh yeah, and this was usually what I pictured when I thought of age 25.
Obviously, this is not the case. Instead, 25 will find me making a new home, 9,000 from the dream one, in a one bedroom apartment on the coast of Japan.
And I couldn't be happier.
Home, for me, now extends beyond that building on 57th street, that apartment on fifth, or that house on Crick. Home is instead, as cliche as it is, where the heart is. And moreso, home is where, while things may not be comfortable, things are right.
In India, I felt comfortable and at home for a good part of the journey because I knew it was right.
In Sioux Falls, though everything is familiar, there is enough uncanniness that I don't feel right. I am no longer comfortable here. And that is because I have outgrown my home. I am now much more comfortable walking the streets of downtown Austin than I am sitting in the cafe of a Barnes and Noble in Sioux Falls. I feel like an alien, a visitor, someone who no longer belongs.
Once a person realizes that their home is elsewhere from where they grew up, one must also fight the urge to think of those in their hometown as provincial, as narrow minded, as small. Forcing oneself into uncomfortable situations - like moving to Waco for graduate school, or moving to Japan to teach - can give a person a growing experience that other people have not had the opportunity to do. Every time I come home - and this is a bit of a confession - I have to fight the urge to be supercilious, to see myself as somehow better because I have had different experiences, I have moved away, and I have made a name for myself elsewhere.
I'm reminded (embarrassingly) of a chick flick by the name of "Sweet Home Alabama." Reese Witherspoon plays a young lady who moves from small town Alabama to the big city of NY. She has to return shortly before her wedding to the mayor's son in order to finalize her divorce from her high school sweetheart. The attitude she returns to town with is one that I must fight: the urge to see yourself as having outgrown the hometown, as having somehow a better life than those who have stayed here their entire lives.
This sort of attitude is one that I must fight if I want to be a good light for the word of Christ in the worlds I inhabit. Once you begin ranking people, thinking, "I'm better than that," you begin to not care about them as human beings, but rather as elements to be defeated, ignored, and ostracized. If I think, "I am better than you because I have been to India, and your idea of a vacation is going to Omaha," I have already lost the battle against myself.
Part of me wants to take pride in my new self that I develop when I go to new places, and part of me should be proud of the person I am becoming. But that same part also has to realize that any notion of being better than others immediately highlights my inability to improve myself. When I take my self back into my own hands, I undo years of work that God has wrought in my life in terms of trying to love others.
I take credit for work that I have no right to.
While I am not the prototypical Midwesterner anymore, though I still pronounce words funny, I am not better than those who choose to live their lives here. I am no better than the young woman browsing the Christian Inspiration section at Barnes and Noble, or the people turning into WalMart, or my father reading Glenn Beck's Arguing With Idiots. If I allow myself to think of myself as better than my fellow human beings, I no longer allow them an identity. They are no longer human.
I am getting repetitive, so I will leave you with Paul's words to the Philippians:
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
I apologize for the scattered nature of this post. In the process of writing, I was interrupted, and I am now at our local Barnes and Noble, people watching and typing away. Also, the above picture is of an unknown origin, but is one of my favorite pictures of the Falls in Sioux Falls' famous Falls Park.