If you were to press rewind on my life and go back 30-some odd years, you’d hear me telling anyone who’d listen how Oklahoma was where I belonged, and how I couldn’t wait to move back once I finished high school. We had moved to NC from OK when I was 14, and I did not adjust well. I was a shy, goofy, mullet-wearing teenager struggling to fit in, missing the comforts of the only home and town I’d ever really known, and I wanted everyone to know how vastly superior my former state was to my current one. I cringe when I think how often my friends heard this rant.
While in college I landed a summer job working for a law office in Oklahoma, having full intentions to make the move permanent as soon as I finished undergrad. Meeting the love of my life kind of changed all that. Suddenly, NC wasn’t so bad. We got married right out of college and what everyone does, if you stick somewhere long enough: we put down roots. We had three kids. We bought houses and made them “home.” We made life-long friendships. We got involved in the life around us. Sure we could envision moving houses or even to a different part of NC (which we did a few times), but Oklahoma? It never crossed our minds.
That is, until everything started to change five years ago (feel free to go back and read our thoughts from then if you’d like). We embarked on a journey which was thrilling (at least it seemed so at the time), terrifying, and literally life-changing. After much soul-searching we landed, shockingly enough, in my old hometown in Oklahoma. We didn’t set out to do this (contrary to my ideas as a kid), it just sort of…happened. And once it did, we tried to do what we sought to do back in NC: get involved, make friends, and put down roots.
And yet, as time went on we became aware of a feeling, a notion, a nudge. We found it was running through our hearts like an underground stream, always just below the surface: we missed home. I wrote about it when we crossed into the mountains of NC on a visit last spring. I felt it again when I went home to visit my folks this past Fall. Not long ago one of my daughters stumbled on a word which sums up this feeling well: Hiraeth. It’s a word which has popped up a good bit over the last few months. I did a little research and came across this wonderful description:
“Hireath is a Welsh word that is somewhat difficult to describe in English, for the reason that there is no single English word that expresses all that it does. Some words often used to try to explain it are homesickness, yearning, and longing. However, there is more depth to hiraeth than in any of those words on their own. It seems to be a rather multi-layered word, which includes a different variety of homesickness than what is generally referred to. This kind of homesickness is like a combination of the homesickness, longing, nostalgia, and yearning, for a home that you cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was. It can also include grief or sadness for who or what you have lost, losses which make your ‘home’ not the same as the one you remember.”(Source: https://sites.psu.edu/kielarpassionblog2/2016/04/02/hiraeth/)
Man…all the feels. ALL the feels.
North Carolina is calling us home. We miss our parents, our friends, our favorite places, the beaches, the mountains, the guitar stores (well maybe I’m the only one that misses that aspect). We miss the trees…my God how we miss the trees! Yes and amen to all of the above.
Yet there is also a part of us I know longs for something we cannot get back. We have had many convos with our kids about how different going home will be. We do this partly for them and partly to remind ourselves that in many ways this move will be a starting over again. We won’t be in the same town, with the same neighbors, close to the same friends. Yes, we’ll be closer than we are now, but that time, those things that bound us and kept us connected, they’ve passed. Things have changed in ways which make a return to the old days pretty much impossible.
And that’s ok. It’s hiraeth, right? There’s a grief in that, a sorrow: a season of life has ended, and it’s ok to mourn. Just like we’ll mourn our current season in Oklahoma. Bittersweet is a very appropriate word right now. It has been a precious time for us as a family, with my sisters and their kids, with new friends, in a new vocation. Our time in Oklahoma has very much been one of healing and restoration, for our family as a whole as well as for me personally. We won’t miss the wind, nor the insanely cold winters (or the dearth of good guitar stores) but we will, in fact, miss it. We’ll miss the sunrises and sunsets, enabled by the scarcity of trees and the flatness of the land. We’ll miss the front porch visits with neighbors filled with good drink and long, meandering conversations. We’ll miss the people of our church, and the way they’ve stood with us through a LOT of hard the past few years. Lord, we will miss those folks. It’s a goodbye that’s good, but it’s still goodbye, and goodbyes are hard.
I think part of the reason for that is there is never a way to really go back. We can leave a place and then return only to realize there is so much that makes a place special which does not stay the same. The only constant is change, as they say.
In a few days we will be moving back to the land of tall Southern Yellow Pines (and pollen, God help us), the land of the Blue Ridge mountains and the Crystal Coast, of the rolling Piedmont and Sandhills, back to home. The very place I couldn’t get away from fast enough as a teen is calling me and my family back. It’s where I want to grow old with my wife, where I want to finish raising my kids, where I want my grandkids to come visit. There is a lot of joy and excitement in our crew about this move, and yet there is also an overarching sense of hiraeth regarding what we’re leaving behind here in Oklahoma.
And maybe all these feelings come from an even deeper stream, for the hope of that however tenuous sense of belonging to be found, to hear the answer to that deep-in-your-bones longing for home, to quit wandering restlessly and to finally be at peace. Deep down I know I’m searching for something that will never be fully realized in this life. These feelings of longing and loss are just echoes, shadows of a deeper desire, a deeper need hard-wired into us all: the desire for all things to be new, for death to be dead, for every goodbye turned into an eternal “hello.”
No more hiraeth…only home.