Over the past year, as I’ve traveled all over creation and met lots of amazing people, one question keeps coming up. “Where are you from?”
I think people ask it because they think it’s a simple way to get to know someone. A one-word answer that helps put someone in context. Except, in my case, it’s not an easy answer.
I was born in Lancaster, PA, and lived there till I was 12. Then southern New Jersey for 4 years. Then Pennsylvania for my last two years of high school. Then college in Los Angeles, grad school in Connecticut and NYC, then Portland, OR. Then I lived in Santa Barbara, CA for 6 months before selling everything and setting out on this grand traveling adventure.
After I say all that, I shrug. “Where does that make me ‘from’?” I ask people. There’s no easy answer. Most of the time we just laugh because clearly I’ve inherited what I call the Gypsy Gene. Everyone in my family moves around. A lot. And so have I.
Two weeks ago I got word that my grandfather in Maine has Stage IV cancer and was meeting with a palliative care doctor to see how they can make him comfortable in the time he has left.
I was going to be in Boston for a speaking engagement. I rearranged my weekend plans, drove up to Maine, and spent a long weekend there. I listened to my grandfather’s favorite stories, looked at old photo albums, ate my grandma’s homemade baked beans and biscuits, and listened to his favorite gospel music with him.
I spent time with my aunts and uncles and cousins and great-aunts.
I steeped in family traditions and memories and lores. I saw love reflected back to me in the faces of the people who have known me since before I was born.
And all of a sudden, I knew where I was from.
I’m not from a place as much as I’m from people (both my mom and my dad’s side of the family).
I’m from this family I have the privilege of being part of. It’s not a perfect family — mostly because I’m in it. But it’s a good one.
I’m from parents and siblings who have loved me through my worst times and celebrated with me during the best ones.
I’m from grandparents and aunts and uncles who have worked first, second and graveyard shift, in adverse weather conditions, in the frozen dead of winter and in the scorching heat of summer.
I’m from people who have worked through misunderstandings and conflicts and wounded feelings.
I’m from people who love God — and each other — the best they know how. I’m from people who keep loving, no matter what it costs.
I’m from people who make deep, costly sacrifices.
I’m from people who care for others in need.
I’m from people who can make me laugh so hard, my eyes water and my stomach shakes.
I’m from people who have known and loved me all my life.
I’m from people who make me feel like I belong, no matter how long I’ve been away.
I’m from people who teach me how to be honest and faithful and true.
“Where are you from?”
I used to hate that question because when I think about the place(s) I’m from, it’s such a long, complicated answer.
But after this weekend, I hope I get asked that question again soon.
Because I know the answer now.