I sat on the bathroom floor, hoping the cold tiles would relieve the warmth I felt in my tears that were erasing the effort I had made to at least look sparkly in the absence of feeling even remotely joyous. It was my first Christmas in Northern Ireland since I was two. We had just moved a few months before, and I hadn’t even begun to find my roots. It was a night my friends would be celebrating, sharing Christmas treats and reminiscing over the best parts of 2007… And there I was, hanging out with the tiles. I had never felt so alone.
Home is togetherness.
I went back to Geneva every summer in the first few years. After a while, I planned to move back and pick up where I left off, then deciding not to and re-planning again. I found out that when you leave somewhere, it changes forever. And when you realise that, you grieve the way things were. And then you grieve people and places and memories that made things the way they were. Most of all, you grieve the loss of knowing, and being known. I wanted to be known inside out, for someone to remember my Starbucks order, why it was OK that I cried during certain movies and what made my heart beat faster.
Home is knowing, and being known.
I grieved for a while, and I guess I still do, sometimes. But I also found ways to set up home in a new way. I found that ‘home’ continued with friends I’d known for years, just in a different way. I allowed myself to savour memories and realise that just because things were no longer the same, didn’t mean that they weren’t real. And I started to discover new people to know and be known by. New streets to memorise the names of. New laughs to store away in my mind. New ‘locals’. In finding a keener sense of appreciation for all these things, I started healing. I realised – I am realising – that home is everywhere.
Home is healing.
The more I’ve wrestled with home and what it means, the more I’ve lost and loved home, the more I’ve felt a desire to create home for other people. In small ways, I love having people over and making sure they’re well fed. In relationships, remembering to know well – and to let myself be known well, too. In my job at No More Traffik, working to make the world safer for people. In my writing, trying to find a way of expressing something to which someone can say: “Me too!”, and find some comfort in.
Home is giving.
The world was shaken when we saw the photo of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old who had been escaping the terror of home in Syria and had drowned when his boat capsized on its way to Greece. One of millions of people, displaced and looking for safety, for hope in a world that is torn apart. His lonely little body, face-down on the beach, was the one on whom we pinned our regret and resolve to act, to help, to protect.
Home is safe.
We had lots of discussions, and then lots of arguments. We decided to open our doors. We sent donations and tents and cans of soup. We decided to close our doors, fearing the unknown. We watched the news and our minds filled with questions. And that’s where we still are. We are grateful for progress, but we are so aware of the many in our world, on our borders, in our cities, who do not know home. But we revolt, we protest, we shout – whatever ‘side’ we’re on – when our doors are doing the wrong thing.
Home is doors swinging in the right direction.
Christians talk about home an awful lot. We speak of people who die as “going home”. C.S. Lewis writes of being “made for another world.” When we talk about Good News, we frame it as something that will only happen after we die. But to tell you the truth, I want something in this life, too. I need something right now, right here. I want good news for this lonely, broken, displaced world. I want to know home here, as well as there.
Home is now.
Immanuel – God with us. The incarnation symbolises the divine walking alongside humanity, hand in hand. Being with us, knowing us, healing us, giving to us, being safe and open and now. Immanuel – home.
And so, my prayer this Christmas:
To the lonely, the scattered, the unknown, the waiting, the afraid, the unprotected, the needy, the longing. To us.