Monday, October 25, 2010

Home is...

I was recently introduced to the music of an up-and-coming ensemble called The Head and the Heart. They have a folksy, quirky sound rich in instruments and vocal harmonies (which I love), and I’ve found I particularly connect with their music because the lyrics include themes about being on the road, missing home and not missing home, and feeling generally uprooted or out of place. Apparently the band is based in Seattle but none of them is actually from there, and as you would imagine they are constantly on the move trying to make it as musicians.

For a few weeks now, the refrain from "Cats and Dogs," a song on their debut album, has been looping periodically on the soundtrack in my mind (at any moment in time I always have a song playing in my head – is that just me?). Fortunately, this one is a tune I like, and the words are “My roots have grown but I don’t know where they are.”

I think it encapsulates how I feel about my current state in the world. Living as an expat I’m often asked two questions: 1) Where is home for you? And 2) Will you move home when you’re done here? I always feel a bit shady and evasive when facing these questions because I still haven’t quite worked out how to respond. People think it's cute but are never satisfied if I say that home is wherever Sam is. They smile and say, "but really, where are you from?"

My turn to ask questions. What does “home” mean? Is it where the heart is? Is it where you hang your hat? Can you ever go home again? What if you don’t know where that is?

In 31 years of life I’ve resided in approximately 15 houses or apartments in 8 cities, 4 states and 2 countries (and no, I’m not military), and about one-fourth of the last 14 months saw me living out of luggage. I’ve never stared at the same four walls for more than four years. I don’t own any property, not even a car. When people meet me they can never place my accent; usually they guess Canada or Ohio. I lived in San Antonio for the longest consecutive period of my life, but I wasn't born there, and my parents have moved four times since I graduated high school (huh, wonder where I get it?). Their current home, while nice to visit, has for me lost the trail of childhood nostalgia. I rent a storage unit in a random suburb of Boston for the odds and ends that didn't make the cut during our move to the UAE. I have a couple of boxes stored in my sister’s closet in San Antonio that may contain some photo albums and old stuffed animals...actually I have no idea what's in them. Most of my family lives in Texas, but I also have "people" in Chicago, Seattle, Denver, parts of Virginia ...and Italy. As far as lifestyle goes so far I’ve felt most comfortable on the East Coast. In view of this disjointed history, where would you have me call home?

It occurs to me that I have something in common with the semi-nomadic Bedouin culture on which the UAE was built. In the words of Kerouac, I am “always travelling, never arriving,” at each stop leaving something or someone behind, but also amassing experiences and friendships and memories to make the next destinations richer. I am certain that my thoughts on this subject will evolve over time, but my conclusion for now is that I may be homeless but I’m not rootless. In fact, my roots are growing. It’s just that I don’t know quite where they are.


  1. Shannon,

    I can't help but be overjoyed at this post, mainly because I'm married to a person very much like you in all these sentiments. My best friend from college feel similarly as well. If I might be so bold (but I hope not callous), I would like to share a Bible verse. I think you are experiencing (like Allison and my friend Seth experience in a unique way) what Paul is talking about in Phil. 3:20-21. As Andrew Peterson sings, "This is a far country, it's not my home." We are citizens of heaven, waiting for our beloved King and bridegroom to sweep us off our feet and carry us home.

  2. Ha ha, even before I read Joel's comment I was thinking, "This sounds like me!" I just did a count and I'm at 15 residences too (more if I count all my college dorm rooms). Being married has made such a difference in feeling "home"-- I totally relate to what you said about Sam being home. At one particularly turbulent time in college when I was feeling so displaced and like no place was home an older friend reminded me that I was never supposed to feel at home here, that Heaven was home. That has really stuck with me ever since. I think I've gradually turned a corner from bemoaning that my life is the way to seeing that God has purposes in it and ways he wants to use me in the world that couldn't be accomplished if my life and identity were more "fixed". I am sure the same is true about God's purposes for you.