A few people have posed this, or similarly phrased, questions in my recent trips home to Adelaide from Edinburgh, where I currently reside.
This trip, which will be my last for over a year on current projections, and this moment in time, half way through the PhD (probably), I am pondering home - what is it, where is it, why do I not want to leave this time?
For the answer I feel like giving, to that question about when will I return to Scotland, is, I wish I didn't have to. My heart breaks to hear myself acknowledge this response. And I long for some peace, some joy, for the return to Edinburgh next month. But just now, home is where I want to stay.
I spend a lot of time with people who are living away from 'home', for the short-term, long-term, or an indeterminate length of time. How we live in our 'other' home of Edinburgh is determined by so many factors.
Why we left home.
What brought us to Edinburgh in particular.
What happened once we got there.
Who and what we left behind.
Where we think we are going.
I may not want to go back to Edinburgh, but in less than two weeks I will get on that plane and make the journey north again. I could make that journey reluctantly, unwillingly; or I could examine those questions and search for some reasons to be glad of making that journey this time.
Why did I leave home?I left in order to follow a dream. Long ago I felt the profound joy and gift it is to fulfil a dream, when I stood in Shakespeare's house in Stratford. If you have the chance to experience that joy, receive that gift, you take it, both hands, and worry about the cost later.
I left home because I wanted to see home from the outside, to experience life in another part of the world, to worship with churches of different though shared traditions in order to enrich my understanding of my part of the world, my church tradition.
I left home because I wanted to study at another institution for the PhD, in another system, another country, for the broadening of my mind and opportunities to learn, grow, and do what is mine to give in this world.
The dream is not done. I have achieved the goal of acceptance into a leading university for my PhD, of living in another country, of participating in and contributing to church and learning communities in other places. But the dream will only be fulfilled when I have graduated from the University of Edinburgh, have finished the thesis and am on the way to producing a book from my research. There is work still to do, and if I am to get on the plane willingly, I must dig into my determination and commitment to realising the dream in all its potential.
What brought me to Edinburgh in particular?Scotland's storytelling culture, Edinburgh's Storytelling Centre, offered the opportunity to further develop my gifts and skills as a storyteller. Scotland is not only about the PhD, but about the broader vocation of storyteller/poet/minister, within which the PhD has a central part to play in this season and the opportunities that will flow beyond it.
I have performed on the stage of the Netherbow theatre, at the Scottish Storytelling Centre; I have led workshops, performed stories, connected with storytellers, and with poets, the Scottish Poetry Library and the vibrant spoken word culture of Edinburgh - which exceeded my expectations for professional development in my vocation.
If I am to find joy in my return to Scotland, I must remember that I return to a collaboration with musician Karl Macrae and the performance of (in)humanity that will include his music later in the year.
I have long wanted to live in Scotland for a season for my Scottish heritage with which I identify most strongly. Dad's childhood in the Scottish / Presbyterian pocket of a very Methodist South Australia, with Ferguson, Wallace, Cameron and Agnew cousins; the story of our Agnew ancestor who came to Australia via Ireland many generations ago, the clan, the castle, the tartan; the places in Scotland for which places in that little pocket were named. There is much to see of Scotland to weave the strands of the story together within myself.
If I am to find joy in my return to Scotland, it might be in the potential pilgrimages to places from my family's story.
What happened once I got to Edinburgh?Here we find the story of the fading desire to be there. What happened was what we feared would happen: I ran out of money. I held the dream without worrying about the cost, and the cost has been almost too much to bear.
I have lived in Edinburgh with financial insecurity that, although not unfamiliar, is harder to endure when one is far from home, from the support networks of family and long time friends, the comfort of the known and understood ways of life, places, language (yes, language is an issue, even when technically it is the same). I have lived in Edinburgh with depression worse than I have known it for almost 20 years. I have lived in Edinburgh with stress enough to debilitate, incapacitate, and to evoke doubt and regret when joy and gratitude might have reigned in my heart.
I do not have the answer for how to return to this element of life in Edinburgh. I continue to apply for scholarships in a process that is energy-sapping and to a great extent soul destroying. I will revise the patreon invitation, goals, and output in hopes of continuing to make this an enticing and rewarding opportunity for supporters of sarah tells stories. Will it be enough? All I can do, and I must do it if I am to get on that plane in a positive frame of mind, is to hope, and to trust that so far in this adventure, leaning into the Spirit, I have found whatever I have needed.
Who and what we left behind.Being here again this month, I am remembering all the things I love and appreciate about home. The ease of it, knowing it in my bones, its air and streets and birds and people; its language and stories and sports and accents. I seem to have reached a point in the living abroad where all the 'newness' of what surrounds me is no longer exciting and intriguing, but hard work and wearing.
Of course, since I moved away, my sister had her first baby, and it is terribly difficult being on the other side of the world from a family with whom I am very close, and used to sharing not only the big but the day to day moments in our lives.
This winter was more grey, cold, and wet than my first in Scotland, and even with six and a half weeks away from it over Christmas, I still found it much harder to endure. I am not sure how many more northern winters I can live through. Perhaps the more I live through the more I will be able to live through them well, but I cannot deny that the climate in Australia - even with its fearful summers of drought, fire and flood - is what I know, and what I love.
Where we think we are going.I have never been especially certain of this question, during any part of this current adventure. There are possibilities, options, and the broad, wide dream of wandering storyteller/poet/minister, into which I am to some extent living at the moment. In Scotland, the number of invitations to perform, preside, facilitate workshops is growing, and though I am not making enough of a living from the vocation just yet, I am making enough to know I will eat every week. I am completing a successful 'tour' in Adelaide this month, with presentations, performances, and workshops, conversations about the work in which I am engaged and its implications for the broader church community, and about possibilities for the future with people who are catching the vision of this vocation and what I might be able to bring to the church through the work I do.
I find I would like to make Adelaide my base, to know that when I leave, I will come home again for seasons of ease among the known and familiar. However, it seems a growing consensus that the ministry or work or gifts of 'sarah tells stories' will only thrive in the northern hemisphere, so that while I hoped to explore possibilities for coming home after the PhD during this time in Adelaide, I have only clarified a potential dissonance between desire for homecoming and the fulfilling of my vocation.
I suspect that I would be happier living far from home with greater financial stability, confidence in the means for coming home when needed, certain of my place and an occupation through which to fulfil my vocation.
What will life after the PhD look like - where am I going? That is still unclear, but I know that I cannot get there, where ever there is going to be, except by getting on that plane, flying north, and fulfilling the dream. For now, further into that dream is where I am going, and in that, with its leaning into the Spirit for the fulness of my being as storyteller/poet/minister, will be the peace and the joy for which my heart is yearning.