For some people, home is a building or a piece of property. For others it is a city, region or nation. Still others feel that home is a person or family. I’ve never really been able to determine what defines home for me. For several years after leaving Charlotte I could not seem to feel at home anywhere. Even going back to visit the community where I grew up never felt quite right. It always seemed that no matter where I was, it wasn’t home. Like wearing someone else’s jacket. Might be warm enough, might even be comfortable, but there is always a point at which you know it does not belong to you. And you do not belong to it.
When I was a very little girl, I thought my home was in the mountains. For holidays and summer vacations my parents would talk about ‘going home’ as we would drive up and down the mountains on our way to see family. So for a very long time I believed we just lived in Charlotte but my home was in the Appalachians.
Throughout the rootless, gypsy-like life of seminary, I felt homesick but could never really put my finger on what home I longed for. A puzzle piece missing from my heart, but I could not imagine its shape. I thought for certain when I took a call in this little mountain town, I would finally feel at home. While I was and am very happy here, it didn’t feel like home. Eventually, I stopped touching the sore spot in my heart; the place where home belonged.
Tonight, after the simple Good Friday service, I went to one of my favorite restaurants to hear a friend of mine play and sing. She has a voice that can only come from those people whose hearts drink in music the way the rest of us drink in water and wine. She sang many beautiful things tonight, one of which was Rufus Wainwrights’ Halleluiah. Now, technically speaking, it is still Lent and I’m not supposed to say that word till Sunday. But she sang it anyway and I am glad for it.
I sat there with my eyes closed, listening to the song wind and grow. I remembered the scene in the movie, Shriek, that utilized this piece and thought of how many times in my life I’d felt like that ogre. For just a moment I was so sad. I wanted to sing the chorus but couldn’t. I was pretending it was because it is still Lent, but the truth is that the only halleluiah I could muster was a cold and broken one.
But then something unexpected happened. All the people sitting around the stage area began to sing the chorus. It was so beautiful. Voices, lifting and falling together. Not perfect but beautiful in the way that only those times of unplanned gracious magic can grant. And for a moment, I let go of the tired and the hurt and the angry. I let go of the sad and the toughness. It all just melted in the sweet harmony and there was none of it left to hold on to even if I’d wanted to. I thought of my mother, finally freed from her constant struggle to breathe, and myself, freed from the pain of bearing witness. I thought of the hard won peace I had made with friends I thought I had lost. I thought of the place where I was and all the different people that come and go. I thought of friends sitting around me and friends out in other places as well. I reached out with my mind and could feel them all there. Right there. I reached out through the floor below me to the earth and mountain beneath. Ancient and alive. And it, too, was right there. So also was everything else that truly mattered to me.
The voices around me wove it all together. All that and more. Forgiveness and love and time and grace, all stitched up into a whole piece of life.
It was then I realized it. I am home. And there was no other word in the whole world except halleluiah.