Lately I have been reading My Ántonia by Willa Cather. It is a novel of a young Bohemian girl who spent her later growing up years as a pioneer in the Midwest. The book was perched in the “Classics” section of the bookstore, and I picked it because for one, it was not too large, and for another, I love the Midwest. There is a subtle charm and beauty that can only be found in the acres and acres of farmland and people who lead simple, yet extraordinary lives.
Encompassing many characters and stories of their pilgrimages, My Ántonia is a story of saying goodbye to the Old World and hello to the new one. It is a story of learning to love something new, something less known. The characters that cannot do not survive. And the ground swallows them up.
Four years ago I relocated to the little island of Guam. The palm trees swayed and the ocean waves curled and foamed against the shore more beautifully than I could have imagined. The air was a thick floral. I lived in the scene of a tropical destination postcard. And yet my heart kept yearning for the Midwest, for the Old World, for leaves that changed colors and air that smelled of the blackest dirt.
As a child I loved the stories of the early pioneers who went out west in search of a greater life. Their tenacity and bravery ignited in me a sense of excitement for travel, for seeing the world. But now, being the one who went far away, the one who has lightened the “wagon” of her possessions, and cried tearful goodbyes, I view those brave souls differently.
Perhaps the hardest part was neither the bumpy ground nor the relentless sun. Perhaps the hardest part was letting go, at least mostly, to the Old World. There is a sense of falling when you let go, but then there is the holding, clinging to something else. There is always beauty in the New World, but it is the embracing it that proves difficult.
Last Christmas (my first Christmas on Guam) I wanted to recreate the Christmas memories of Indiana. This was both frustrating and impossible. But then I learned that I could blend both “Old World” and “New World” elements. There was no tree farm with hot cocoa, but there were some trees at Home Depot sold by a cheerful local man. We bought him a Powerade, and he let me take some cut-off branches for a wreath project. We laughed and said, “Merry Christmas!” as we wiped sweat from our faces.
Home can be two places, perhaps even more. Now that we live in an age of commercial airplanes, moving and traveling are much easier, and we can legitimately let a few places claim our hearts. But wherever we are, we must be present. The Midwest forever has a piece of my heart, but this Pacific island has the now of my heart. May God use me here, now. And may my ultimate longing for home always rest in Him.
Keep the Faith,