Last month I went home to New Brunswick for a visit.
I use the term “home” loosely, because even though I grew up there, I couldn’t leave fast enough.
Home was a small town in the middle of nowhere with one grocery store, three stop signs, eight churches, and 918 people. I ducked behind the newspaper office on my walk home from school because my grandma worked in the front office and I knew if she saw me she’d call me in to fix my hair, usually with a paperclip. Most days I would be stopped two or three times by kind neighbours asking me if I wanted a ride up the hill. I usually declined – not because I was afraid of being abducted, but because I genuinely liked the walk.
Everybody knew everybody and the biggest news day of the entire year was when the ice broke up in the spring and started moving beneath our famous covered bridge. Would it or wouldn’t it knock out a pillar? The tough kids hung out and smoked in the library parking lot on main street in clear view of anybody who walked by, and although I think my cousin once streaked through the courtyard after dark, they never did anything really bad.
My sisters and I played outside in the fields and forest behind our house without a care in the world until darkness fell and my mother called us in for dinner.
But home isn’t home anymore after 15 years away.
It’s still a small town, but now there are two grocery stores, countless stop signs, and even more churches. The newspaper office was torn down years ago to make room for a parking lot, and the beautiful, hundred-plus-year-old heritage houses that stood next to it are slated for the same fate later this fall.
The town has been in the news more often in recent years for break-ins, beatings, and occasionally worse. The library parking lot isn’t the main hangout anymore, since the youth have become interested in things a bit more severe than cigarettes. The inside of our famous kissing bridge is covered with vulgar graffiti in place of love notes signed by tourists.
To an outsider – which is what I felt like, after 15 years away! – my hometown felt like a fallen down ghost town.
My trip last month was my first solo trip back east since Nathan and I started dating, and interestingly enough, it was also the first time I caught myself hesitating before I referred to New Brunswick as home.
See, for the past decade I’ve made my home in Edmonton with Nathan. He certainly considers Edmonton “home”: It’s where he grew up, and most of his family still lives here. I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself a big city girl, but I’m comfortable here. We live on the outskirts of the city: A ten minute drive in one direction can take us to the downtown core while a five minute drive in the other direction can take me to wheat fields, corn fields, and the barn! I love having choices and easy access to good schools, great hospitals, and all the shopping – but still, Edmonton doesn’t feel like home.
It’s strange, really. When I’m here I long for there, but when I’m there I can’t wait to come back here …
I’ve struggled with the concept of “home” for years. Whenever somebody asks me where I’m from I still say “New Brunswick” – even though I've now lived in Alberta for more than a third of my life. At what point does this become home?
Last month I came to the conclusion that maybe it never will.
Maybe it’s not supposed to.
* * *
While I was on my trip I realized that I need to hold on my idea of home loosely – not only because of the inevitable way places change over time, but because this isn’t my home. Hebrews 13:14 says that “This world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (NLT). I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty confident that doesn’t mean a physical home! I like the way Eugene Peterson phrased it in the Message: “He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.” (2 Corinthians 5)
I love New Brunswick and I love Alberta – but neither of them are my true home. I need to focus less on where my home is - and more on the people around me. I am where I am for a reason, and there’s more to it than buying a comfortable couch and painting the walls a nice, neutral shade of gray.