Our house is a very, very, very fine house

22 09 2010

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Today I scaled a mountain.  Literally, not figuratively. Most of China took today off to celebrate the moon and the middle of autumn, and I decided to use my day of rest to hike up the Big Black Mountain and visit the many temples that sit along its ridges.  It being a gorgeous day, I definitely chose wisely.

At the mountain’s peak, where we braced ourselves against the wind to eat our lunches, one of the other teachers asked where I was from.  I’ve said this before, but that’s actually a difficult question for me.  I’m still unsure what to say.  Yes, I’m from Wisconsin, but haven’t lived there for almost half my life.  I lived in New York for 8 years, but don’t know if I’ll ever go back.  China is my current home, but don’t see myself here much longer than I have to be.  “Where are you from?” and “what do you do?” are usually the first questions asked in a first meeting.  It’s how we define and categorize our new acquaintances.  The place you call home says so much about your cultural identity, I wonder sometimes if I’ll begin to have an identity crisis, especially when I plan to continue teaching in as many countries possible.  In 20 years, where will my home be?

During the car ride to the mountain, two of the others discussed owning property somewhere eventually to give them a home base.  I’ve never owned anything big like that.  No car, no house, no dogs, no responsibility.  No ties.  One of the reasons I loved my life in New York so much was the lack of commitment to anything material.  I rented my apartment, and waited tables, a job notorious for employing those with commitment issues.  Or at least actors.  The thought of owning something that serious makes my stomach turn.  I already have school loans, why would I put myself in a position where something even more concrete can stop me from the next great adventure?  Then I started to wonder if there’s something wrong with me as a person.  Why do I not have the same urge as others to create my home?  To have a place that’s mine?

As I was saying one prayer for serenity and one for a life full of fun for myself and my family to a couple of the idols in the temple, I began to think of that cheesy saying “home is where the heart is.”  I realized that even though my parents sold my childhood home, I have a sense of security in my family.  It doesn’t matter where I go, my home is in Escanaba, and Madison, and Milwaukee, and even Chicago, and Rochester, and Rib Lake, and Seattle, and Atlanta, and I suppose New York, and many places scattered across the U.S.  Most especially, my home is outside of Curtis, Michigan, where my extended family meets once a year for a week and celebrates the truest answer to the question “where are you from?”

I don’t think I could explain that to too many people without sounding so horribly Pollyanna I’d even make myself gag, but climbing down the thousands of steps after the last temple, I was comforted by the thought that I won’t ever have to own property somewhere to know who I am.  My family estate can never be sold or destroyed, and we are forever expanding.  Prayers for serenity and a life of fun were answered long ago.





One response

22 09 2010
Aunt Mary

Wonderful reflection, Stephanie! You are a wonderful writer and I have enjoyed your blog — particularly this one. Thanks.

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