I’m a week away from a big move out of my hometown, where I have grown up and gone to college, where I have always returned after semesters abroad, conferences and vacations. I’ve never left Michigan for an indefinite period of time before. So it’s a big move, but also a pretty hectic one. I recently got back from a quick road trip to Montreal and Massachusetts, and before Easter I will rest my head in at least a half a dozen more cities from Eugene to Indianapolis and Ithaca.
I’m trying to cram in as many friends and as many favorite things to do and places to see as I can before I go (feels familiar, thinking back on Budapest and Oxford), while also packing up my life and spending time with my family here, whom I love a lot and will miss immensely. In recent years I’ve become rather attached to Michigan and to Grand Rapids, which always surprises me. I never ever felt welcome here as a kid. We moved here from West Africa with basically nothing, and I went to a little Christian school where it always felt like everybody knew everybody (and everybody’s grandparents knew everybody’s grandparents and they all went on vacation to Gulf Shores together too). In those early years, even though Grand Rapids was the only place I could remember, I knew so damn well that I didn’t belong.
That only began to change in college. I’m not quite sure yet how it changed, but I think it had something to do with studying abroad, reading Yi-Fu Tuan, and generally coming of age. (I also credit post-2008 media coverage of Michigan as a giant vat of decay since the Other’s gaze of morbid fascination can only strengthen a person’s defiance and statriotism!) Whatever the origin of my sense of being at home here, I now find myself feeling massively conflicted about being one more person to leave. Will I ever come back?
Another place I’ve been surprised to call home is the church I grew up in, which I’ve started attending again only in the last year. During Lent, our church has been using as a sending song “We are people on a journey” by Gregg DeMey. It includes the verse, “We are people on a journey, rising up in life reborn. / We are people on a journey, speaking peace, accepting scorn. / We are walking toward a homeland, to a myst’ry yet unknown, / to a kingdom coming quickly, to the light of God’s own throne.”
I have to admit that I often find it pretty hard to make out the light of God’s own throne, but as I set out on this big and hectic journey, I can say Amen to the myst’ry yet unknown and the hope for a homeland in this Lenten time of life.