I used to think that I wasn’t a person who was so attached to “place.” When I went away to college my horizons were broadened and a wanderlust was planted in my heart. Somehow, somewhere the idea of staying in one place had been painted as negative. Plenty of people stay where they are and do heaps of good on their own street corners, to their tried and true communities and neighbors. However, I used to think that because I was transient and flexible that attachment to a particular place was not one of my vices. It’s the people, it’s the work to which I attach my heart.
I am leaving a place that I have called home for 13 of my adult years. Although, I have called several cities “home” within this one country, the country itself has been a source of growth and has blatantly woven itself into the fabric of my being.
This is the place where I’ve…
grown into who I was as a single woman
grown into who I am as a married woman
grown into who I am as a leader
grown into who I am as a teacher
grown into who I am as a mentor
grown into who I am as a friend
grown into who I am as a servant
grown into who I am as a sister in Christ
And whenever I look back to this growth, the shaping of my identity and heart, I will attach those lessons to a place, to a country whose paths I’ve tread. I am more unique for having lived here.
Last November I boarded a bullet train and shot over to a city that had been a former home of mine. Although much had changed there, I was very surprised at my reaction to revisiting the area. I found I missed it. I missed the pathways I had walked and the shops where I could buy goods quickly and easily, without hunting. I missed the gardens on the campus and the architecture of the buildings. I missed the ease of public transportation and the general vibe of the city. Okay, perhaps it was the memories that triggered these feelings of nostalgia, but I wanted to go back and live in those spaces once again.
I concede that grief when leaving is more multifaceted than only location. My favorite moments in the November trip involved former colleagues and reunion moments with friends. Place, people, service, experiences and memories are woven into the fabric of who I am and I cannot pull any one of these threads out without fraying my past.
I’ve always held to the reality that most times “goodbye tears” are shed because we are leaving something good. My husband and I are leaving a community that is remarkable and extraordinary. We are leaving national and expat friends who have laughed with us and have gone deep. It is true that I probably won’t shed tears over the local noodle shop or the haunts of my current campus, fantastic and grand as it is. No, it is the people and the experiences that will have the honor of hot tears falling or sighs of nostalgia…but it is “place” that frames those memories.
I also recognize that I am leaving for something good. Faith forces my fingers to write those words. It is hard to believe them when our future is fraught with question marks and uncertainty. Yet I know that I set my hope on a Faithful Father and that what is coming is also something good, even if the road is foggy and rocky on the way. New growth will happen in new places. New attachments will be made.
Is it terrible that that does not fully comfort me right now?
My adult identity may have been made in China but my hopes are planted with Jesus, who walked dirt paths from Galilee to Jerusalem and who daily washed the dust of places off His feet. I have no idea if He felt attached to place. Nazareth? Bethany? Jerusalem? I may not feel clear in this regard but I do know how he felt about people. So, I will tie up my sandals and continue to walk these paths, until my road diverges and locations begin to look different. I can’t put a pin in the map for the future so I may need to fix my eyes on each and every place my foot falls…for now.
Until those places over the horizon become my new regions to roam.
How has your identity been shaped by places? Which places frame your memories and why are they special to you? How do you you say goodbye to places and/or cherish the memory of them?