We rolled our bags down the entrance ramp with the other familes, backpacks heavy, batteries fully charged. Yet another trip back through the skies, the growing reality of our global lives. Friends come to us from an airplane this week, and more family the week after that. In a few short weeks, we will fly around the world to cover our fingers in curry and slap away pesky mosquitos and sweat ourselves silly with the cricket-playing-cousins.
The trips jam-pack themselves full of old joys and new discoveries. While there is no luxury of next-door life anymore, we are grateful for the squished-full-but-still-too-short days that the airplanes allow us together.
“What’s pot roast?” my daughter inquires of her meat-and-potatoes grandpa. He’s shocked she doesn’t know, but I affirm sheepishly that this childhood staple hasn’t ever made it into our family diet. I don’t even know how to buy a pot roast at the grocery store, let alone cook one, and food traditions at our house are more likely to include practicing proper techniques of finger-eating rice or chopstick-handling noodles.
I see words on a window at the airport, and am captured by their truth.
This is how it feels, sometimes, life above the swirling earth. Always places we’re going to, places we’ve left behind spinning themselves around our lives between cornfields and curry, airplanes and freeways, water-buffalos-in-the-street and cows-in-the-barn. Always translating manners or looks or words for each other, occasionally missing something in the mix. Always navigating the risky waters of rural racism or third-world traffic patterns or airport security gates.
I sit on the airplane and think of my life between worlds, of the places I’m going and the ones I’ve come from. I think of how I can’t ever really go back to who I was and how I’m always becoming something new. I think of my students from the corners of the world and of my grandma from the corner of a cornfield. I think of the tractor induced traffic jams on back country roads and the breakneck speed and overflowing freeways of the city.
And I try to think them together – these worlds – for so many try to think them apart. I think of the grandma-from-the-West-African-bush with a giant smile and not a word of English making her way to the big city to see her first born grandchild. She smiled broad as she recounted how tall the buildings were. I think of a shivering young wife in a thin sweater slipping on ice for the first time in a bitter winter on her way to a new home. She shivers as she remembers, “It was sooo cold.” I think of a nervous young woman, in love across worlds, trying to impress her new family with her finger-eating skills only to fling half her plate of rice onto the ground.
Who are we becoming as we flit around the globe on these metal birds? I wonder.
It’s tempting to think I am the first to forge this path, but I am not. While some have tied themselves to the land, nomads have roamed for eons. They didn’t have airplanes or Skype, but the story tells itself the same.
Make a new home in a strange land.
I think all the way back to Abraham, who did this very thing. Sometimes I wonder if he ever longed for the simplicity of just one home, if he struggled to make sense of the clash of the old and the new. The Story says he did it by Faith, even though he didn’t know where he was going. He probably made some mistakes in his new land – used the wrong words or touched the wrong thing or wore the wrong tunic. We don’t know about any of those details. What The Story determined we needed to see was Abraham’s faith to walk forward without knowing the destination.
Perhaps this is one little piece of thinking the world together: to trust that the beauty and strength and hope of the world far away runs just as deep and rich and true as the home that lingers in our memories. When we cross these caverns, our lives speak silently, echoing that we are better together than apart, that we must see more than just the broken ways of wounded people.
It used to bother me that all these worlds didn’t fit neatly in the box I thought they should. Anymore, it usually just leaves me grinning for I’m growing to love the overflowing, shape-shifting nature of living on the bridge between bland pot roasts and spicy curries, flat cornfields and tiered rice paddies, slow tractors and speedy freeways. While there is undeniable loss in living far away from all of our loved ones, it marches hand-in-hand with an unspeakable richness that comes from living between worlds.