-sharing reflections on what I've heard and am hearing, learned and am learning,
from voices in the Holy Land, the USA, and Rwanda-

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Home is where the heart is.

There are four places that I have claimed as my home over the course of my life: The College of William and Mary, in Williamsburg, VA; Caroline Furnace Lutheran Camp, in Fort Valley, VA; the community of Beit Sahour, in Palestine; and the house in which I grew up, in Olney, MD.  Over the past six years, I've transitioned back and forth between these four homes time and time again.  As of last August, I found myself back on Lafayette Drive, in Olney, living once more at the family homestead.  

Yet, with their children out of the house (well, almost...) and no need for the cozy 6-person home they created over the past twenty-five years, my parents have decided to downsize to a small condo in northern Virginia.  While their choice is both helpful and logical, goodness gracious am I going to bawl my eyes out when we drive away from this place for the last time.  A different family will soon fill my childhood home (the only Neubauer family home I have ever known) with their own memories.  I will no longer be able to claim this house as one of my homes. 

Home.  As we've renovated, fixed, and cleaned my house (so much so that my ten year-old-self would not recognize a lick of it) I've thought a lot about what "home" means: what it feels like, what it represents, what it provides.  In what way is a house different from a home?  How do we grow to acknowledge one specific place as "home"?  Is "home" tangible?  Can we ever really--truly, honestly--let go of the homes we've known despite having to leave them behind?  If we had the option, would we try to go back?

Now, forgive me for reverting to song lyrics, but... 

The Dixie Chicks, in "A Home", capture the difference between "house" and "home" quite well:

Four walls, a roof, a door, some windows.
Just a place to run when my working day is through.
They say home is where the heart is,
if the exception proves the rule I guess that's true.

Hmmm... no form of love, no home?

In "Lost in My Mind," the Head and the Heart suggests maybe home is not quite so tangible after all:

Mama once told me, you're already home where you feel loved.

Ahhhh... home IS a feeling!

Yet, one of my favorite songs ("Homebird" by Foy Vance) gives another perspective--that memories of home are deeply routed in our very souls, part of who we are and how we remember our lives:

The orange was the size of a watermelon to me.  Well, at least this is my memory.
Sunshine made my bare feet burn upon the road, far away we roamed.
And I'd be howlin' out a song in the backseat.  The boys would laugh and tease about my black feet.
They'd tell stories that would warm my soul: motor bikes and chrome.
Jimmy could not wait to get home.

Homebird sing, fly me high on an angel's wing.
Homebird sing; leave out nothing tell me everything.

Well, I hear ya, Jimmy.  

My home is full of memories that I associate with physical things:

the kitchen table where I'd sit and play cards with my grandma; 
the toilet that I was convinced would conjure a ghost when I flushed it at night (glad to have left that fear behind);
the backyard where my brothers taught me about all things outdoors (for the suburbs, that is); 
the heart wallpaper and the stars on the ceiling of my original bedroom, both lovingly placed by my parents, that reminded me every day that they loved me and supported me in the things I loved;
the living room where we have held our family meetings throughout the years; 
the unmistakable yet unknowingly spackled bust of an alpine man on my parent's ceiling (I SWEAR!) that my mom and I would point out to each other during cuddle time; 
the pot-belly stove, where one of my brothers and I started a fire (without permission) when my parents were away one day (whoops!), that taught me a thing or two about risk management; 
the notch in the wall, where I stuffed a plastic sheep from my miniature Christmas Nativity set soon to find I could not wiggle it back out (it's stuck there to this day), that gave me some insight into the world of not being able to fix mistakes all the time... and letting go; 
the old garage turned rec-room (at that time referred to as "the pit") where I spent one of my favorite New Year's Eves among my brothers and cousins as the grown-ups paaaaar-tayed(!) in the house; 
the garden out front where, gardening with my other grandma, I received my first bee-sting;
the back deck that my friend Brittany and I painted once in return for a pizza;
the lawn I spent countless hours mowing (it had to be juuuuuuust right), and then remowing;
the kitchen where one of my brothers and I explored our culinary skills (for better more often than for worse... just never ask about "the pud");
the driveway where the neighborhood kids would gather for street-rules basketball games or rollerblading X-game style competitions (jumping off of our home-made, wooden ramps);
the office in the basement, home of the terrifying portrait of our ancestor, Pruella... (I didn't go down there if I could manage).

I'll stop there.   (Thanks, Pruey.)   

So. This home is where I have felt and feel loved; this home is where I have memories of the good times and the bad times, all of which formed the person I am today.  This sense of home is represented in the tangible people or things that remind me of precious moments of personal growth and growing relationships.  I carry this home with me in my very being, and have carried memories of similar formative moments and relationships from every home I've known.  What is "home"?  Home is life--is living, is loving.  

Today I'm especially aware of what it means to have, and love, and care for a home.  Today (May 15th) marks the Palestinian commemoration of the 1948 Nakba (Catastrophe) where an estimated 700,000+ Palestinians were forcefully driven from their homes in waves by the growing armies of soon to be Israel.  In total, 531 villages were forcefully evacuated, some of which by extreme measures.  Many of these villages were wiped off of the map completely.  

Home.  A land?  A building?  

A love.

A peace.

Home.  Forced removal.  Home.  Demolition.  Home.  Land-grab.

My thoughts about leaving my childhood home?  Unlike many people around the world who have been driven from their homes and their lands by human cruelty, I will walk away with a sense of closure.  Is that fair?  

I cannot fathom how it felt to be a Jew during the Holocaust; and I cannot fathom how it felt to be a Palestinian during the Nakba.  Even as I prepare my mind to accept moving out of my childhood home, I cannot even fathom the thought of being forced to leave my home this very night... told I could return in a few days, ushered to the outskirts of town, driven away on foot or taken away by train, unsure of my fate... never able--never allowed--to return.  Where is peace in that?  There is only longing: a longing for a lost peace and a longing for a lost love.

Of the three other homes I have left behind, I intend to return to each throughout my life.  And while I will most likely never again set foot in my childhood home, at least I have had these few months to cherish each new memory that pops to mind as I've sorted through the rooms and objects that hold so much of my story.  I will miss this home dearly, but I get the chance to take all of the memories with me. I know it is time to let go and say goodbye to my house, and I am blessed to be able to hold on to the feeling of this "home" despite leaving it behind.

Thankful for the homes I have and will cherish, and blessed by growth and relationship in each, I pray that everyone may find their souls warmed by the sense of peace, love, and comfort that accompanies being "home."  I pray for the communities around the world that long for a peaceful home.  I pray for Israel and Palestine. 

And, I think I might just wholeheartedly agree with Emily Dickinson when she writes, "Home is the definition of God."

May we all find a home in God's love.  In God's hope.  In God's peace--the peace that passes all understanding.  Amen.

 NOTE:  If you want to hear a first-hand account of the Nakba from a Palestinian Christian who is committed to peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land, I highly suggest you read Blood Brothers.  A relatively short yet powerful story, Blood Brothers is the autobiography of Elias Chacour, the current Arch-Bishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and all of the Galilee in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church.  

To learn more about the Nakba through the eyes of an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim (both of whom claim the same house in present day Israel as their rightful "home"), read The Lemon Tree*.  This book outlines the unique friendship that formed between these two parties as they met each other at various times over a number of years.  The book also outlines a lot of history surrounding the formation of Israel and the migration of European Jews to Israel after the Holocaust as well as the experience of Palestinians who later became refugees due to the tactics of the proto-Israeli army.  It is truly an amazing, and heart-breaking, weaving together of lives and stories.  (*The movie The Lemon Tree is a completely different story, though it is also good to watch.)