Four weeks home after 14 months living abroad; four of six and a half before heading back.
Four weeks of sinking into an old comfy chair, relaxed as I recognise the familiar after so long at attention learning so much new.
Four weeks of Edinburgh fading to the foggy dream state of 'did that even happen?'.
As I sat behind the wheel of a car at the roundabout I have driven every day for the past 19 years, it seems as though the intervening year of no driving, of walking the streets of another city was a story someone told me long ago, not the one I had been living, and to which I will too soon return.
Home has wrapped its arms around me, welcomed me as if I had never left it for another, had not flown away, far away.
Friends embraced me as though it had been longer than just one year since we had seen each other. Then we resumed conversations as if they were paused only yesterday.
I have revelled in comfortable silences, easy conversation – none of which I have quite arrived at with the many good friends already made in the UK. Those friends and I are still getting to know each other's stories, humour, boundaries. These new friendships are beginning to settle, trust is emerging, ease is coming. But there are one or two that reached the familiar, were comfortable almost instantly; kindred spirits. Rare gifts – but stories for another time.
Although there are such friends to miss, and by whom to be missed, my heart has been so full of home these four weeks, that Edinburgh has been quite forgotten. Until ...
Until on Sunday evening I stood in my (Australian) home church singing Christmas carols. Suddenly, the memory of last Christmas had my heart simultaneously standing in my (Edinburgh) home church singing Christmas carols. By Christmas last year, I had finally landed in my new home town, helped by finding a place of belonging in this church as I offered my gifts as storyteller-poet-minister, and by finding joy in the welcome at the table of new friends as we shared our first Edinburgh Christmas together.
This week it seems that my heart has now grown full enough of home again that Edinburgh could be remembered, welcomed back in.
I knew coming home and returning to Scotland would be a discombobulating experience. I knew it would also be the way to begin to weave together the two strands of my life; the old and the new, the roots and the branches spreading wide, the communities of forming and sending with the communities of welcome and new growth. It would be a painful weaving, and the hardest part is yet to come, when I again say goodbye to family and home.
There is more certainty as I leave this time, for we know I will be home again in April. There is also less certainty, for I have less confidence in the possibility of my long-term return at the conclusion of PhD studies. I had some hopeful ideas when I set off on this season of development of the storyteller-poet-minister vocation, ideas of what might be possible long term, at home. Now, I feel unsure of the direction of the church at home; I feel uncertain of my church's understanding and appreciation for this storyteller-scholar in whom they have invested significantly, but whose gifts seem still to be overlooked when opportunities for their enriching of the church community arise. Especially when in Scotland people actively seek opportunities for making use of the storyteller-poet-minister they now have in their midst.
So I face a departure this time coloured less with hope and more with sadness; less with anticipation and more with disappointment; less with the thought of resettling here again and more with the thought of home as a place I will visit in the many years to come. Last time I left Australia, it was with a dream to bring to life; this time, it is with that dream still to live, but without the next one to look forward to.
I did want to live in Scotland, wanted this more than anything for many years, and now I am living my dream. But the dream's reality has been harsh, cracked and almost broken entirely. I have been almost broken entirely. Twice now I have left Edinburgh and not quite wanted to return; in August after the storyteller's gathering I found myself incredibly reluctant to go back to that place of stress and anxiety. Then I had no choice but to knuckle down and persevere.
This time, perhaps, the spirit of Christmas is shining some light, rekindling the joy, making space for the two cities of my belonging to be held in my heart with this intricate weaving of many textured strands. It is a painful weaving indeed, but may turn out to be secure enough to hold me safe in the travelling between, in the waiting for the next dream to be born.