Moving In

We didn’t always live on Mango Street. Before that we lived on Loomis on the third floor, and before that we lived on Keeler. Before Keeler it was Paulina, and before that I can’t remember. But what I remember most is moving a lot.

Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street

We finish just before lunchtime, then prepare plates of rolls, meat and cheese and sit out in the sunny backyard. As we eat, we marvel that it only took two and a half hours to get it all done, to move a family of seven from one house to another in Kandern. Eight vans, one truck, and fifty people. But still–two and a half hours!

It was a lively, lighthearted morning, as we passed boxes and furniture down long lines of people, learning names and hometowns and new positions, just a little over a week before school resumes at Black Forest Academy. We passed all sorts of things–blankets, dressers, one very large stick that the patriarch found on vacation in Italy once–marveling at the magnitude of seven peoples’ belongings. This is a family, with family things–coats for the winter, treasured furniture, toyboxes–and the moving day brings back all sorts of memories of my own family, moving from island to country to city, now so long ago.

Emily and I moved also, three months ago, a comical process that involved carrying all of our belongings down three flights of stairs, across the main street in Kandern, through a square and then up another four flights of stairs. Like this sunny moving day, that one was quick and fun and exhausting, enlivened by the help of friends.

The English-speaking tenth of Kandern’s population moves often. In that respect, as in many others, we are different from our Kanderner neighbors. Different from my landlord, who inherited his business and building from his father, and so still lives in the apartment in which he was born, the building with his name on the side in neon letters. There are the long-distance moves that bring us here and take us away again, years or decades later. Many of the moves, though, are from house to house, flat to flat, or at most village to village in our little green valley. There are many reasons for this: yearlong sublets from families on furlough, changes in roommates, new places opening up closer to school. I recently spoke to a young mother who moved three times within her first six months in Kandern, and is now delighted to return to the same place after a summer away.

I don’t mind moving. Since leaving my parents’ home a decade ago, I’ve probably moved a dozen times, at least. I love settling in, hanging up pictures and curtains, small things that make home interesting and cozy. Still, there’s part of me that starts to worry, with each move, about the things that I have. Don’t buy anything too heavy, I tell myself, nothing that I couldn’t pick up and carry myself if I had to. Or I wonder if I should bring this or that from Seattle back here to Germany, wondering if I’d then cart it back across the Atlantic later. The impermanence of our lives here, glorious and simple in its own way, makes it tricky to accumulate possessions.

And I don’t worry about the possessions, really. It doesn’t matter if my sheets, books, or dishes go along with me, or stay in this magnetic village, well-loved heirlooms for those who remain. What I notice, though, is the temptation to “travel light” in more than just a material sense. To think of relationships and community in light of their transience, investing only partly as I think of the ever-growing weight of separation from those who’ve left. Intimate friendships are like pianos or pets; solid, beautiful things that “change the game.” I am so deeply grateful for this community, but on my less courageous days I’m hesitant, anticipating the leavings that are inevitable.

It’s usually at moments like these that God reminds me to watch my students, those experts in investing themselves no matter the timeframe. These young people have already seen more change, said more farewells, than I, and yet they start school fresh each year, ready to welcome and renew the relationships so deeply valuable to them. They “move in” quickly and well, and don’t worry much about the weight.

I long to trust God with these changes, like they seem to. To thank Him for the present community in which I find myself, trusting that it will change, from one good to another, and resting in His changelessness. As we start the year together, in a school full of new and old faces, pray that our community would reflect Christ, that we would be known by our love, “moving in” to community with intention and grace.

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