14 May 2020

Home, part two

A few days ago, one of our friends arrived in the USA from a period of Quaker service in another country an ocean away.

As I wrote a greeting to her, my fingers had already typed out the words "Welcome home," when I had a sudden impulse to backspace and delete the word "home," and all my familiar complicated feelings about that word came back to me.

On the one hand, it is one of my favorite words. In concrete terms, it refers to a very specific and beloved bundle of comforts and conveniences located in Portland, Oregon -- a place where I eat and sleep and keep warm and clean, where I am close to those I love beyond words, where I spend my nonworking hours -- and, these days, my working hours, too. Just outside our walls, Judy is doing amazing things with the garden. Our neighboring children play in our trees. Our home provides a sort of stability, at least for now, that we wish everyone in this world could experience.


On the other hand: out of the twenty years since we bought this home in Portland, we spent almost half the time in another home entirely -- an apartment on Yalagin Street in Elektrostal, Russia. It's an apartment where our landlord at the time now lives, having promised us that we'd always be welcome back for a visit. Hundreds of these blog posts were written at my desk in that comfortable apartment, using the computer that our friend Gleb built for me out of parts we bought together at the computer parts store near the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. I know every meter of the 35-minute walk between that apartment and the institute where we taught English and mass media classes, and I often dream about the institute building. That's why I couldn't simply write "welcome home" to our friend -- what if her place of service overseas had an equally homelike grip on her?

"Home" also has a wider set of references, as Becky Ankeny said at the Friends pastors' conference I described in the blog post entitled Home. These associations include the webs of relationships that anchor our identity, our sense of belonging -- our work relationships, for example, and our church relationships.

Those webs are precious, but also fragile. Less than two years after that pastors' conference, our yearly meeting suffered a painful separation. And a year after we left Russia, the government refused to renew our institute's accreditation, scattering our wonderful community of colleagues and students.

Becky reminded us not to let these versions of "home" become idols, hiding the truth that our only real and eternal home is in God. After that conference, my favorite short prayer became "I want to dwell in You." But God also granted us places to dwell here and there on my favorite planet, and each place helped shape who I am now.

I had planned to go back to Elektrostal for a week in March, but the pandemic intervened. Someday I hope to make that trip. When it happens, I'm sure that some people in Elektrostal will say "welcome back," but in my fantasies about that future moment of reunion, at least one person will remember to say, "Welcome home."



Related posts:


Mike Farley: To trust in God when all human ingenuity and will are exhausted is not defeat....

Danté Stewart: On Ahmaud Arbery and Running While Black.

Welcoming the refugee in Ayia Napa, Cyprus (thanks to Fulcrum Anglican for the link).

Yevgeny Kaspersky: the majority of cybercriminals are Russian-speakers.

Northside Friends Meeting, Chicago, invites us to observe a day of mourning for those we lost owing to COVID-19. Their proposal suggests May 25, Memorial Day in the USA.

ISS docking simulator, screenshot. Source.
COVID-19 truths.

Perpetual War Dept.: The betrayal of the American soldier.

You too can prepare for the upcoming flight of the first Dragon spacecraft to carry a crew: here's SpaceX's International Space Station docking simulator.

Digitizing the records of Shakespeare and Company, Paris.



The late Magic Slim in Brazil. I love the comment, "From this you can learn what 'groove' means...!"

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