When the border patrol official stamped my passport he said, “Welcome home,” and gave my three weary kids a little flag before calling to the person in line behind us. “Next.” It was the Fourth of July 2011 and we were repatriating after making our home in Bahrain for two years.
Beyond his white desk in the glass stall the world seemed less sterile, colored by shades of possibility. I was a person again rather than a little book of stamped pages detailing the borders through which my feet had walked. Another new home awaited somewhere in the vastness butting up to the spot where I stood.
With my three ducklings in tow I waddled away laden with our belongs strapped to my back, hanging from my shoulders, and tied around my waist. One outstretched arm reached for the hand of my six-year-old, lest he get lost in the overwhelming crowd. Or maybe I was the one who needed mooring. Either way, we forged ahead, found a place to lay our heads, and called it home.
And here we are four years later, packing up our belongings, preparing to find yet another place to call home. I’m not moving as far this time–only about 3,000 miles rather than 6,000–but the feeling of vulnerability is strikingly similar. I’m purging and packing, and leaving behind and looking forward once again. It’s overwhelming and I feel unmoored, even though I know I’m lucky. It is a privilege to move because of opportunity rather than oppression.
That knowledge offers me perspective, kind of like a lighthouse on the horizon when I feel myself drifting out to sea. It helps me to prioritize—remembering what is important and what is not worth the worry. I wish I could say that it’s easy for me to keep the lighthouse in view, but it is not. The stress of it all consumes me and I often find myself adrift on a sea of endless to-do lists. I waste precious energy developing efficient organizational systems—which never seem to work as efficiently as I intend.
Yesterday I opened the drawer of my bedside table ready to dump its contents. It has become a catch-all for stuff that otherwise doesn’t have a place in my well-ordered house (have I mentioned that I’m a neat freak?). I was surprised by the contents. There a card from my husband with a hand-written note; a homemade bookmark on which my young daughter had scrawled, I love you Mom; a souvenir journal from Paris that my son had brought home for me saying, “I knew you’d like this because you love Paris and you love to write;” a heart-shaped rock my youngest child proudly presented to me from his rocks-and-other-things-I-find-on-the-ground collection. There were bits of paper with quotes I wanted to remember and books I meant to read. A nickel that I found on the ground the day after it was confirmed that my husband’s health was at risk (luck for all five of us), and a photo of my brother and me at my wedding attached to his funeral card …
It occurred to me that this drawer had become a memorial of sorts, a place where I stored tangible reminders of what gives my life meaning. I thought about a book I recently devoured in preparation for a move across the country, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Perhaps this is what the author was talking about when she advised readers to keep only the items that brought them joy. So I took stock of the contents of the drawer and carefully tucked them away.
I also thought about the oft quoted scripture in the book of Matthew when Jesus told a crowd not to worry about storing up treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal. Instead he told them to store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal (Matt 6.19-21). Surely the items in my drawer could be consumed or lost or destroyed, but what they symbolized could not. They had value beyond any earthly treasure, and I think that is what Jesus meant. The important things are not things at all, and they are priceless.
“Where your treasure is,” he said, “there your heart will be also.”
With that in mind, I went on packing and preparing for the eight day car trip (gasp) to San Francisco. I wonder what my new home will be like and worry just a little bit about how we’ll all settle in. In the liminal space between the coming and going, my mind can’t help itself but to continue making up systems to organize the chaos, to map out the unknown.
I got the necessary paperwork in order and make the last phone calls. But the din of happy chatter and the gleeful shouts of kids riding their bikes on a summer afternoon reminded me where my treasure is. Not in a box waiting to be loaded on a moving van or in a place defined by borders, but in my heart. And that will always be home, no matter where in the world I go.