In the course of a day our house has been transformed. It was a welcoming place, with familiar books on the shelves and pictures of relatives on the end tables. There was a Pakistani rug on the floor, and Dominican painted tiles on the walls. We had an Afghan blanket hanging on the wall, and an Italian vase on a window sill, both wedding gifts. In the past few months our collection of baby toys has grown considerably, and those toys have found their way to every corner of the house as their owner’s throwing arm has improved.
Yesterday it was all packed away. All the books, rugs, paintings, photos, vases, and most of the toys went into boxes and onto a big truck. Some of it will meet us in Washington, but most of it will stay wrapped up until it arrives to meet us in Riyadh after maybe a year and a half. The house is empty now. The white walls are blank. There’s a new echo to the house as there are no carpets or curtains to absorb the sound. It doesn’t quite feel like the same place.
A house is different from a home. A house is walls, doors, a roof, and floors. A home is harder to define. It’s a place where our experiences find life. A place soaked in meaning. It’s the pictures on the walls, the games in the cupboard, the food on the table, and the people who you share it all with. Home is the experience that happens in the house.
This house has been a good home to us. Under this roof we have shared meals with many beloved friends. We’ve had parties. We have rested away the exhaustion of long days at the visa window. We have learned how to be parents. And JJ has never lived anywhere else.
Watching the physical symbols of home go into boxes is a melancholy experience. It means we are leaving soon. But we also know that home is not our stuff. Home, for our family, is finding love and belonging in all of the new places that we are blessed to experience. This summer we will rest with friends and family in many places where we have known home before, and where we can still taste it. And in the coming months and year we will find home in new places, just as we have before.
It’s a little scary. I fear that maybe this time will be different. Maybe it won’t work out quite as well. Will I be able to learn Arabic? Will I stink at my job? Will I make any friends? Change brings doubt.
But for me, home is wherever I find the beautiful woman, the growing baby, and the neurotic chihuahua with whom I am sharing this empty house for the next few weeks. With them around I know it will all work out, and for that I am thankful.