Home for Christmas

In my first semester at BYU, as I introduced myself hundreds of times to the other wide-eyed freshmen at Helaman Halls, I quickly realized I had never quite figured out how to answer the question: “Where are you from?”

My dad was in the Air Force for the majority of my childhood, so we moved around a bit. I can separate my childhood and adolescence into three distinct “worlds”:

  • Coastal Mississippi, where the air was heavy and the frogs plentiful. I caught lizards and hung them from my ears, stomped on fire ant hills, ran through sprinklers in the scratchy, thick-bladed grass. The rhythms of our lives were modulated by the cycles and whims of the insects and the ever-looming Hurricane Season.
  • Colorado, where I could see Pike’s Peak from my bedroom window. I traversed the mazes of connected neighborhoods with ease, climbed the winter snowdrifts over the fence that divided our backyard from the neighbor’s, listened to the constant rustling of the quaking Aspen trees.
  • And Southern Utah, all red rock and palm tree and inescapable heat. I jumped from blazing cliffs into Sand Hollow Reservoir, sprinkled fluorescent glowstick liquid on the walls of lava caves, built fires in the sand and watched the stars from car rooftops after football games. My family has remained in St. George, so any one of them would likely call it home, but my four years was not enough to root me in the dry terrain.

These diverse lands all hold memories for me, and yet none of the three beckons me to claim it as my own. And they have all changed in my absence. Hurricane Katrina overturned my small town of Ocean Springs, commercial developments popped up all over the nearby empty lots in Colorado Springs, and my parents remodeled the house in St. George—now barely recognizable as the house of my high school years. Like the home in the “Time Passes” section of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, the home-spaces I had established continue to shift. People alter the space; nature takes its toll.

At six years, I’ve been in Provo for longer any of these places, so I suppose it’s as much of a home as any. Certainly, I’ve made home-like spaces in cozy nooks of the JFSB, in one small desk in the basement of the library, in the café on Center Street, in the worn uphill pathways I trod each morning. Yet, to claim Provo as my native town rings hollow when I moved here as a legal adult and spent a good portion of my time here complaining about it. (Provo has since crept into my heart and found a permanent space. I love this weird town and I’ll miss it when I leave.)

I can’t help but feel a little envious of those who spent their first eighteen years in the same house or even in the same city, who knew their classmates by the way they ran the playground in third grade, who passed by the same tree every day on the walk to school, who grew with the land and people around them.

Perhaps this dilemma has been on my mind lately because I’ve been in Professor Aaron Eastley’s graduate seminar on Nations, Migrations, Odysseys, and Exiles. We’ve studied the works of writers like Monica Ali, James Joyce, and Derek Walcott, as well as theories of nation and homeland by Kachig Tölölyan, Stuart Hall, and Robin Cohen. The common theme among so many of them was the longing for their homeland, for their inherited nation—a longing I couldn’t quite understand because no one land called me. It wasn’t until we read Leslie Norris that I felt I could relate. In “Sing it Again, Wordsworth,”[1] Norris’s main character wakes up in his own bedroom feeling like he has “no roots, that there was no place, however distant, to which [he] could turn at so desolate a moment” (27). He further realizes,

I found myself too far away. I have travelled away from those places for half a lifetime. Their summers are thin and cold, their voices inaudible. It was then that I realized there is no place mine without the asking for it, no place where I belong by clear right…I know that if I had to choose at this moment a place to be native to, I would be unable to decide. (27–28).

Like Norris, I find that there is no place that I’ve inherited as home, no place to which I consider myself native. And perhaps the other reason I’m so concerned about my own rootlessness lately is that I am faced with the upcoming decision of where to make my home next. I am applying to graduate schools in cities all over the country, though none of them close to any of the places or people I’ve called home. I am left, like Norris, to ask for a home—to try to make a space for myself among people I don’t yet know in places I’ve never even visited.

Yet, Heidegger classifies “being” as constantly shifting ways of relating to the world.[2] With this in mind, I find that while I may not have a homeland, I am not homeless. Rather, my home is found in in the small consistencies: my mom’s banana bread, the soundtrack from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie, Friendsgiving, and my favorite books with my notes in the margins. And my home is my family, wherever we happen to be located. According to Heidegger, my relationship to these various “homes” has revealed my identity; I’m a collection of the spaces and people that made me. I am the foggy Mississippi mornings; I am the mountainous networks of slender Aspens; I am the irregular but sturdy red rocks; I am the eerie quietude of BYU campus on a Saturday. I am the friends and teachers and church leaders that cared for me and shaped me, if only for a brief time.

Stuart Hall speaks of cultural identity as “a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as of ‘being.’ It belongs to the future as much as to the past.”[3] I think the same can be said for personal identity: it is a matter of agency, of deciding who I will be, in addition to who I’ve been and who I am. For me, then, the upcoming task at hand—choosing and creating a new home—is at once liberating and distressing. Luckily, it’s far enough in the future that I don’t have to worry just yet. For now, I’m going home for Christmas—home to my family, my one consistent home-space. For now, that’s enough.

This post was written by Morgan Lewis, Humanities Center Intern.

[1] Norris, Leslie. “Sing it Again, Wordsworth.” The Girl from Cardigan, Seren Books, 1988.

[2] Heidegger, Martin. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, translated by William Lovitt, Garland Publishing, 1977.

[3] Hall, Stuart. “Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” Identity: Community, culture, difference, edited by J. Rutherford, Lawrence & Wishart, 1990, pp. 222–37.

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