Home (Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes)

Part 1 of the “Home” series

I got the idea one day when I was scrolling through the song list in my iPhone. Three of my favorite songs happen to be right in a row because of the alphabet. It amazes me how even the tiniest things grab my attention. I often listen to them, without putting my phone on shuffle. They all have the word “home” in the title, and obviously the concept of home is a huge theme of the song. One day, many moons ago, the idea for the “Home” series occurred. Of course I’m just now getting around to it…

The definition of home has changed for me these last few years, but it has especially been sharply defined since I moved to El Salvador and became a volunteer with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos.

I remember redefining what home was when I first moved into Clement Hall my freshman year of college at the University of Tennessee. Of course, I still went home often to visit or do laundry. My room stayed the same, minus the few things I took with me to the dorm. However, I remember the first moments of confusion when I would talk with my parents about having to run home for something while I was out and about, etc. “Oh I’m on my way home.” “What, you’re coming by the house?” “No, I mean, I’m going back to the dorm. To my room.” That kind of stuff. Naturally, my dorm room and campus life became a home to me because I did live there.

Of course being accepted into college and then graduating high school months later was a humongous sign of growing up. For some reason though, it became clearer to me once I started having the “what is home” issue when I moved to campus. At first it was just about a physical place, but then it grew to my identity. Where was it rooted? Is it allowed to grow and change? Can my identity take on new colors and shapes and schemes or am I bound by the past and by my foundations? How do you learn and grow without losing who you are? How do I become my own person, an individual, without forsaking my family and friends?

I didn’t have a sheltered life, so I’m not too fond of this next cliché for what it implies, but it works for what I’m trying to say, which is…how do I cease being a caterpillar, break out of the cocoon, and become a butterfly? How can I be something different while still knowing my roots and acknowledging history and loving every moment and person along the way?

All of that started because of a seemingly simple problem of rationalizing my physical location because let’s face it, a lot of your identity can potentially be wrapped up in something physical, like a house.

I moved back to my parents for the summer after freshman year, then back to the dorms for sophomore year. However, the big change really took place when I didn’t move home pretty much at all the summer after sophomore year in 2011. I had a mini-term class which began the day after the spring semester officially ended. It was also 4 hours long, every day for 2 weeks. That’s a lot of driving from Lenoir City to campus for just one thing. Then, the day after the mini-term class ended, my summer class started. Fortunately for me, it only lasted for the first half of the summer term. The point is, when faced with such an odd class schedule and a new job that was only a few miles from campus, I couldn’t really bring myself to move home, to justify all that driving if I was presented with a more economical opportunity.

So for most of that summer, I camped out in my friend’s room at Tyson House, which is the Episcopal-Lutheran campus ministry house at UT. I had spent a lot of time there the first few years as a student. While Katie Ann was away being a camp counselor, her room became my new home for the summer. It was great. I lived with a few other Tyson House residents who were taking summer classes. (Fun fact – I was the only female resident for a few weeks until the other girl moved in. That was a new and neat experience as well!) I went back to my parents’ house almost every weekend though. After classes were over, I spent a week visiting family up in Ohio, and then I technically lived at my parents’ house for about week until I moved into my apartment right before the fall semester started.

I hadn’t spent that much time away from home in a long time. (Haha, well, until I moved out of the country. But we’re not there yet.) So what was home? While I still called the house in Lenoir City my home, I also frequently referred to it as “my parents’ house” and not just simply “home.” The change in my vocabulary was an indicator of the shift in my perception of what home was to me. Then, when my family entered a particularly difficult time during my last 2 years of college, we were faced with the possibility of not calling our home, home, anymore.

I remember the sense of panic, of what it would be like to not go back to the place that I call home. Now, I’ll admit to you that I put a lot of stock into physical things as ways of holding onto memories. That is, I keep things and hold onto them tightly because I think they serve as a valuable connection. Even though I wasn’t born in Tennessee, we’ve lived there the longest. I feel like I’ve mostly grown up there, especially in that house. So I found the possibility of saying goodbye to it very challenging.

Then one day, a thought occurred to me. If I can but for one moment lay aside my attachment to the house, what then do I define a home as, if it isn’t in fact a tangible object?

Suddenly, my worries seemed rather trite when I thought about that question. You know why? Because as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes sing,

Oh home, let me come home. Home is whenever I’m with you. Oh home, let me come home. Home is when I’m alone with you.

At least, that’s what they sing in the studio version of this song. I’ve got a live version from a Daytrotter session where they change things up a bit and instead sing,

Oh home, yes we are home. Home is wherever there is you. Oh home, yeah we are home. Home you are me and I am you.

Either as stand-alone verses or in thinking of them together, the message is clear to me. Home is being with the ones that we love. Home in this sense is not a place but instead is a gathering of or a union of the people that we love. Our family and our friends. Whenever we are with each other, we are home.

Now I know that I haven’t been with my family and friends for quite some time, almost 10 months as of this writing in fact. I miss them all very much. I’ve had very small bouts of homesickness. These tiny bouts don’t occur that often, actually. In the beginning I struggled with that feeling. Shouldn’t I feel weird that I’m not dying to go home? Well, the honest truth is no, I don’t have to feel weird. It all gradually became clear to me. I’ve always considered the pequeños of NPH El Salvador as family, so in a way when I came down, I just came back to a very big family. NPH isn’t the one that raised me, but it’s my family nonetheless.

One night, one of the high school girls and I were talking about when I was leaving and why. Though I didn’t have time to explain everything, I mentioned that I would like to see my family and friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them. She thought about that for a few seconds, and without missing a beat responded with, “Well, you don’t have to go back to the United States for that. Your family and your friends are right here.”

She’s right.

So if I’m in the US, El Salvador, or somewhere else entirely, what I do know is that whenever I am with the people that I love, I am home. Day by day, I am forming my identity outside of the physical house that I grew up in. I know for a fact that I am not the same person that I was when I started college, nor am I the same person that I was when I left the US. And that is such a good thing.

Change and growth are so beautiful when we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable to it. So I acknowledge my roots and that physical home I grew up in, but I also now count an entirely different country and group of people as home and as family. That’s awesome.

So, there’s Part 1 of the “Home” series. In keeping with the original idea, the posts are in order of how the songs appear in my iPhone. Stay tuned for the next post.

Don’t forget to give “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes a listen on the main page! It just might change your life!

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Alegría

What is alegría?

In its simplest form or definition, it means joy in Spanish.

The word “joy” is a nice English word in and of itself. For me, it conjures up beautiful images and can be manifested differently. However, as much as I like sound of the word, I’ve come to discover that I much prefer the Spanish word, alegría.

In my time here in El Salvador, being surrounded by and using Spanish, I’ve noticed that I do that a lot lately, prefer Spanish words over English words. Sometimes there are words in Spanish that, for me, capture an entire thought or idea or whatever…that is, what I feel can sometimes be expressed in one or two words in Spanish rather than several words in English. I think that’s pretty cool.

Anyway, back to the point – alegría. According to my experiences in the Spanish-speaking world (and also Merriam-Webster’s Spanish dictionary), alegría is defined as: joy, cheer, happiness.

Joy, cheer, happiness

Now, there are other, similar words such as: gozo, felicidad, placer. But for some reason, for me, alegría just does it for me. If words could “get” people, then alegría gets me. Know what I’m saying?

In my almost 8 months here, I’ve had an infinite number of joyful moments. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately though because of two things in particular – a conversation and a photograph.

It was no surprise for me that when I got here, there would be children that wouldn’t want to talk, that wouldn’t come up and ask me millions of questions. There are shy kids, quiet kids…kids just like I was. Well, just like I am. Whatever the reasons may be, we’re just quiet with and around each other. Here’s an example from a previous post:

…almost 5 months had passed when one of the older girls finally opened up and started talking with me; at least it became more than just saying hello in passing. Just a few weeks ago, she felt comfortable enough with me to cry on my shoulder. I would never have expected that when I first met her.

In addition to shy, quiet, and/or reserved kids, the other issue is that I don’t see the university students very often. Those few that I have made connections with just so happened to have stayed here at our main facility for an extended amount of time; or, they were here finishing their years of service and have just recently left the campus to go study and live in our university houses in Santa Ana.

So, it wasn’t until the days leading up to Christmas that I created a bond with two of the university guys. For whatever reason, we just clicked and now get along swimmingly. We’re able to joke and tease each other, but we can also talk about serious things or subjects with much depth.

They both left not too long ago, at different times. The one guy returned for the weekend the other day, and we picked up our usual banter as if he hadn’t left and been away for a few weeks. That moment in itself was joyful and full of alegría when I ran into him.

However, it wasn’t until the conversation left its usual lightheartedness and became serious that I fully understood what alegría is. I’m not one to betray confidences, so I won’t discuss what he and I talked about. Suffice to say though, it was a very deep and beautiful conversation.

It’s not very often (really, ever) that I get those moments with the pequeños. Where all the barriers are down, and life is looked at and discussed for what it is.

That is alegría. Being human. Being human and sharing the human experience with someone.

It is being able to be trusted and confided in. It is joyful, full of cheer, full of happiness. And everything else that I simply can’t put into words. Oh how I wish you all could just feel what I feel by being here!

So there’s the first thing – the conversation. The easier and shorter moment to share with you is a photograph. Well, I lied. It’s multiple photographs…

This is the picture I intially thought of. Keep thinking about it, honestly. She's just so alive and joyful. Alegría.

This is the picture I intially thought of. Keep thinking about it, honestly. She’s just so alive and joyful. Alegría.

You see...

You see…

...what I mean?

…what I mean?

I know for a fact that I didn’t do the word and the meaning justice, but it’s my attempt nonetheless. Alegría, what a wonderful thing.

September in Review

It’s the same old song and dance my friends. Here we are in the early days of November, and I present to you in photo review my life and experiences at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos El Salvador in the month of September. Yay!

Proof of working hard (and getting a little dirty) at school!

Proof of working hard (and getting a little dirty) at school!

The older grades took turns helping out in the new garden areas right outside of the school buildings. Here’s 4th grade!

The older grades took turns helping out in the new garden areas right outside of the school buildings. Here’s 4th grade!

Working on Christmas cards in September! That’s how one operates with more than 1700 to make…

Working on Christmas cards in September! That’s how one operates with more than 1700 to make…

This is the classroom where I help out! And sometimes teach…

This is the classroom where I help out! And sometimes teach…

Playing a game of Trainwreck (or as we call it in Spanish, Llego carta) during the 4th grade retreat.

Playing a game of Trainwreck (or as we call it in Spanish, Llego carta) during the 4th grade retreat.

My sideways shot of the downpour – I was standing in the back during the rosary, trying to be inconspicuous while taking the picture.

My sideways shot of the downpour – I was standing in the back during the rosary, trying to be inconspicuous while taking the picture.

We didn’t get to play outside after all. Instead, we were trapped in the multiple-purpose area for about 20 minutes.

We didn’t get to play outside after all. Instead, we were trapped in the multiple-purpose area for about 20 minutes.

There are never sad faces when it rains!

There are never sad faces when it rains!

The sun came out so I went on walkabout while everyone was inside, watching movies.

The sun came out so I went on walkabout while everyone was inside, watching movies.

Love the cancha with the NPH logo.

Love the cancha with the NPH logo.

One of my most favorite shots from the cathedral of Santa Ana. Beautiful.

One of my most favorite shots from the cathedral of Santa Ana. Beautiful.

Looking out at the town square from the front steps of the cathedral – you can see part of the theatre and the mayor’s office/government building.

Looking out at the town square from the front steps of the cathedral – you can see part of the theatre and the mayor’s office/government building.

Our group of Confirmation students took up a sizeable chunk of pews. The picture doesn’t do any justice.

Our group of Confirmation students took up a sizeable chunk of pews. The picture doesn’t do any justice.

A sponsor and his Confirmandi :)

A sponsor and his Confirmandi 🙂

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Favorite moment, favorite picture of the entire day.

Favorite moment, favorite picture of the entire day.

Yay!

Yay!

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These girls, I just love them. Always cracking up and hamming it up for the camera.

These girls, I just love them. Always cracking up and hamming it up for the camera.

September birthday celebration!

September birthday celebration!

He is very serious most of the time, so when I caught him smiling, I couldn’t help but take a picture. What a beautiful smile it is!

He is very serious most of the time, so when I caught him smiling, I couldn’t help but take a picture. What a beautiful smile it is!

Oh if you could only hear the laughter.

Oh if you could only hear the laughter.

9th grade presentation/skit – an office scene

9th grade presentation/skit – an office scene

Always with that smile…

Always with that smile…

Here’s 8th grade’s skit – a hospital emergency, which turned out to be quite hilarious

Here’s 8th grade’s skit – a hospital emergency, which turned out to be quite hilarious

Oh the laughter!

Oh the laughter!

7th grade skit – a day in the world of aviation

7th grade skit – a day in the world of aviation

Our youth group kids got to go play basketball with some other churches; here’s the girls’ team sign! (Father Wasson’s Daughters)

Our youth group kids got to go play basketball with some other churches; here’s the girls’ team sign! (Father Wasson’s Daughters)

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Boys’ turn to play, but let’s pray first!

Boys’ turn to play, but let’s pray first!

After all was said and done, a rag-tag team of girls from all the churches decided to play one more time. Even more fun and hilarity ensued.

After all was said and done, a rag-tag team of girls from all the churches decided to play one more time. Even more fun and hilarity ensued.

Finally, a Saturday afternoon with no rain and plenty of family play!

Finally, a Saturday afternoon with no rain and plenty of family play!

Contest – how many times can you keep the ball off the ground within in a certain time period? This guy one and did so by bouncing the ball on his head at least 100 times. Yeah.

Contest – how many times can you keep the ball off the ground within in a certain time period? This guy one and did so by bouncing the ball on his head at least 100 times. Yeah.

Such beautiful sisters!

Such beautiful sisters!

The two youngest of one of my favorite families (group of siblings) playing a little fútbol

The two youngest of one of my favorite families (group of siblings) playing a little fútbol

Investments

I’m not sure if this really counts as a post, since I’ve written so little. However, I want to pass along something to you, for posterity’s sake. Consider this as a precursor to an as yet to be written post.

I’ve also refrained from inundating you about Mumford & Sons, how much I love them, and how much their music has truly impacted my life. Ask anyone who knows me well…I could talk for quite some time about those gentlemen. That discussion will also come in another post.

For now, I ask you just as I ask myself – where are your investments? I mean, really think about the question. What do we put stock in? What and/or whom do we have faith in?

“Awake My Soul” is one of my favorite Mumford & Sons songs. Aside from it simply being awesome in its own right, the song has often pushed me to think about where my investments lie. The lyrics, the instrumentation, and yes, even seeing it performed live with gusto (which is already present in the studio version of the song)…all of it helps me along the way.

 

Watch the video/listen to the song if you’ve got the time, but at the very least, just consider these lyrics:

In these bodies we will live

In these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love

You invest your life.