Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it,
And how you’ll never belong here.
So I call you my country,
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me.
“Land of My Sojourn,” Rich Mullins
It’s still dark at 5:45 AM when we land at Frankfurt International Airport. I’ve been traveling for almost 17 hours, and have about five more to go before Bus 55 drops me off in Kandern. With a yawn and last sip of bitter coffee, I peer out the window, back in Germany.
Several years ago, I was spending the summer in Austria when a friend from Seattle came to Germany for five days. He was attending a wedding (here in Kandern, oddly enough), and five days was the maximum of vacation days he could manage. At the time, I laughed. Who goes to Europe for five days?
The same people, I realize now, who live in Germany and spend a long weekend in California, for a wedding and a time with my brother, as I’ve just finished doing. Motivated by love rather than convenience, kept alive by caffeine, we traverse time zones with youthful impunity, vowing to sleep later.
I pull out my camera as we taxi to the gate, flipping back through pictures of the trip. My aunt and uncle welcome us in at 9:30 PM and bid us farewell twelve hours later, not before preparing two delicious meals and staying up past midnight with us, catching up around a patio campfire. My grandmother, Nadine, is shocked to see us on a surprise visit to her home in Fresno. I drive all over the tinder-dry, strip-mall rich Central Valley with my brother, Noah, filling miles of Highway 99 with conversations unhad for the sixteen months. And then, at the end of three busy days, I stand with flowers and a black dress at the front of a church, celebrating the marriage of my friend and college roommate, Ashley. Though weary, I am grateful to have gone, thankful for the years of relationship that led up to these intersecting moments with family and friends.
Looking out the window at pre-dawn Frankfurt, a foreign city in which I’ve spent no time at all, I’m thinking of what we mean by “home.” It’s nebulous for us, this community of global nomads, ever flowing in and out of this green valley in Southern Germany. Where is home, after all? Is is the country that prints your passport? The address where you receive mail? The place you retreat to on holidays?
I wrote to a former student, a few years ago, that growing up for me has meant finding that homes don’t cancel each other out, that many exist simultaneously, all over the city and world. It’s true. This weekend, even in California, had flavors of home. With my family, there is a history that goes deeper than the few precious days we’ve spent together lately. With Ashley, as she begins her marriage, there is a sense of future, looking ahead to what lies in store for her. Even so, apart from these relationships I felt somewhat alien there, in an unfamiliar part of the country, surrounded by strangers speaking English and busily buying nonsense from too-large drug stores.
No one is waiting for me in Frankfurt, so I collect my luggage and board a train heading south. It’s tempting to feel the sting of loneliness as I try to stay awake on the train, tempting to wish that there were other people here, telling me I’m welcome. Still, the sun begins to rise, and we slide over the misty sea of harvest fields, where rosy light is diffused through geometric orchards and mirrored against the glassy, meandering rivers that follow the tracks. And this, the incredible loveliness that God has lavishly poured over this place, feels like its own welcome to me.
Rainer Maria Rilke, visiting Rome and also exhausted by travel, once wrote of the soothing power of beauty like this, saying “There is much beauty here because there is much beauty everywhere. … One gradually learns to recognize the very few things in which eternity dwells, which one con love, and solitude, of which one can softly partake.”
I could make easy generalizations, could say that North America is relationships and Europe is beauty, but it wouldn’t be true. Because I’ve climbed mountains and watched sunrises in Washington, and because in Germany I spend long evenings in honest, rich community, another family. I’m thankful for both; both are home.
Because as there is beauty everywhere, home is everywhere. Christ is home, I wrote at the beginning of this adventure. It’s still true. In solitude or community, in beauty or barrenness, He is in every step, every moment. From one home to another, I travel in peace.