ExilePosted: November 9, 2014
An exile can be defined as a separation, voluntary or forced, which may or may not be prolonged, from one’s home or country. It is a pretty broad definition, but it can fit most cases of exile, whether they be of individuals, families, or people groups. Some exiles settle down in a new location and make that their home, no longer wandering, but at rest. Others wander from place to place, intending to return home someday; some fulfill that hope, while others do not. Someone told me that I could view my upcoming move to Indiana as an exile, hopefully temporary. This thought prompted the following musings.
When I was a child, I sometimes felt that I must have come from another planet or, more often, that I had been born into the wrong century. I had a close-knit loving family and good friends, I generally did well in school, I spent summers in the mountains running wild, I read profusely, but I always felt somehow – apart. I never seemed to quite fit in anywhere.
Part of one line from the William Wordsworth poem, Ode: Intimations of Immortality, has always stuck in my head: “trailing clouds of glory do we come.” In the broadest sense, my whole life on earth is an exile; my true home is not here, but with God in Heaven, and the intuitive recognition of that is probably the reason why I have never felt completely at home anywhere that I’ve lived. Yet even without that completeness, each place I’ve lived has become a home, and leaving that place of security and familiarity to start over somewhere else becomes another, smaller exile.
Sometimes I envy people who have lived all their lives, if not in one town or city, in one geographical area. Certainly that is true for many of my friends here in Stedman. Their lives are rooted, not so much like trees, but more like bushes, which not only grow roots down but also grow branches outward, which entwine with each other so much that it is hard to tell where one begins and another ends. These entwined bushes become a hedge, a place of safety and security, and sometimes of insulation. The TV shows I watched growing up, which still draw me and fill me with longing for the kind of life they portrayed, were shows about families deeply rooted in their neighborhoods, towns, or lands: Lassie, Father Knows Best, Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons. Though many of my aunts and uncles lived in their own homes, and my cousins grew up in neighborhoods in Long Island, that was not my life. We moved from apartment to apartment, each one in a little “better” neighborhood as my parents’ income increased. Each place we lived, for however many years, had its own defining markers: schools attended, friends made, milestones of growing up experienced, family memories made. But there was not that solidity and stability, that my cousins and friends had, of having my own home. We were more like the Israelites, striking our tents and moving on, each time with a combination of anticipation and trepidation.
We lived in four different apartments in four different neighborhoods in Brooklyn from my birth through my college years. I was extremely shy, up through college, when a concerted effort by a professor and some classmates encouraged me to break out of my fearful position as an observer of everyone else’s life to becoming an active participant in the world around me. The life rope that sustained me through ten of those years, from age four to age fourteen, was made of strands woven from our summers in the Catskill Mountains, in a small bungalow colony (that’s what we called them back then) named Muldavinville. I hid myself during the school years, but I ran wild and free with my friends during the summer, and perhaps that is why I’ve always considered myself a country girl. I believe that was the hardest exile of my young years – not going back to the place that held many of my happiest memories…
The next big leap, not long after college, when I’d been working for a while at a job in the city, was to move out of my parents’ home into my own tiny apartment in the Village. It was a statement of my independence, but it was a hard one, not only for my parents, who couldn’t imagine why I would want to leave home, but also for me, because I was terrified to live alone. There were other apartments, houses, temporary dwellings – the details of which I will fill in when I finally start writing the longer story of my life – in which I lived alone or with others, in New York, in Brooklyn, in Woodstock, and finally in Cincinnati, Ohio, where my first husband and I moved to go to graduate school.
It wasn’t until I married my husband Paul that we actually bought a house, in Dayton, Ohio, where we lived for about thirty-five years. We had four living children (two more lost in miscarriage) born there, all but one of them born at home. We had church families, good neighbors, great homeschooling friends. We had station wagons, dogs, and a fenced in yard. We definitely had a home, a home in which we had many wonderful times with our friends and even with people we didn’t know. Yet, somehow, to me, and to my four children, Dayton was not a place we wanted to stay forever. We could still be there, and our kids would have some place to come home to and visit, but, to me, that was inconceivable; I always had the feeling that Dayton was only temporary, a longer exile from the place I eventually would be able to call home.
Our next move was to North Carolina, to a tiny town in the Piedmont called Salemburg, where my husband and I took a position, for a year, as houseparents in a maternity home. We fully intended to return to Dayton after that year, but towards the end of that time, we realized that our work there was not yet finished, so we decided to move to North Carolina, selling our home in Dayton. We only stayed another year at the home, and the story of our time there will be the subject of another blog, but we moved from there to a single-wide trailer we rent in Stedman. Lacking the mountains, it is country living that reminds me of my childhoods in upstate New York. In eight years there, we have become pretty well grafted in to the community.
I’d forgotten I’d started this blog, and I’m finishing it after being in Indiana for six months with another six months to go. Leaving my life in North Carolina, even temporarily, was hard. What drew me here, caring for my grandchildren and helping my daughter and son-in-law, was a stronger pull than the regrets. I have a nice apartment here in a small town called Chandler, a few minutes’ walk from their home. I treasure the time spent with them and the enjoy the luxury of the time I have alone. I know that leaving them to return to North Carolina will be hard, as all these partings have been hard, but I look forward to returning home from this exile.
I do feel, however, that this will not be the last trip I will make. Whenever I think of actually settling somewhere, as in our buying a house and planting ourselves more permanently, something holds me back and I sense that my wandering days are not yet over. Perhaps there is a place on this earth that I can settle in and feel that I’ve really come home, and I have not yet found it. Perhaps I never will, and I will continue to be in exile until God finally calls me Home.