05 Aug Welcome Home
After six months, I’m back in the USA.
I’ve done this reentry thing before. Once, in 2000, after a year in a Portuguese fishing village when my kids were seven and five. Once in 2010 after six months of volunteering around the world as a family.
It’s always a challenge, but this time is different.
For one, I’m doing it by myself. Though I have my two kids with me and that’s awesome, they’re busy with summer jobs and friends and preparing to head back to college. For another, I’m renting an apartment so nothing around me is mine. I have no roots or familiar things to ground me. It doesn’t feel like home because…it isn’t.
The first night back, when both Logan and Jackson were out of the house, I stood in the middle of my new living room, surrounded by other people’s things, listening to the dead silence of the space. It was 7:30 PM.
“Inside time,” I said to myself, which is what they called it at the Mission.
It was one of my favorite times of the day: saying good night to all the kids. Not everyone wanted a hug but many did, and they each had their own style.
Ram Pal always wanted to be picked up and he always kissed me on the cheek.
Santoshi wanted a running start, launching herself into my arms.
Serena approached shyly, acting embarrassed, hugging from the side.
And Shane had the most unique ritual of all. He loved ears; the feel of ears, the rubbery texture of the cartilage. So he’d hold both my ears, bending them, flexing them…then he’d kiss me on the forehead and smile. “Good night, Uncle,” he’d say before the next child stepped up.
Alone in my empty apartment, I missed all that connection. So I sat on my rented bed and reread the stack of letters I was given when I left the Mission. Then I set up a little shrine of photos on my bedside table. I reread old blog posts, slipping back into the swirl and commotion of Pirate Day, of the Frozen Ball. So many faces and memories. Six months have flown by.
I haven’t reached out to old friends just yet—though I’m not exactly sure what I’m waiting for. Maybe I just need a little time to settle? Maybe I’m not quite ready to let go. My mind is still full of them…the kids, their beautiful faces, their sweetness in spite of the past, their obvious worth. Around them, my life feels full of purpose. I want to fight for them, to be worthy of them. I want to be more than a fun uncle who comes and goes. More than another good intention in a world of good intentions.
But what does that look like? I guess time will tell. One thing I’m sure of…this journey is far from over.
For now, though, I need to be back here. To see my own beautiful children, to prepare for my book launch, to figure things out. It’s not goodbye; I will be posting from time to time…but it is the end of my orphanage adventure for a while.
For everyone who has followed me this far: thanks for coming along. Your comments and encouragement have meant the world to me. If this trip has inspired you or entertained you in some way, I’d love to hear about it. Just leave a note in the comments section below.
Beyond that, you can always check in on the Mission at their website, www.indianorphange.com. If you’d like to subscribe to their weekly newsletter, click HERE. You’ll receive a concise, weekly update with lots of great pictures.
As I type this, a train sounds its whistle in the distance. It’s an Amtrak train that runs right through Portland and I could hit it with a grapefruit if I threw one off the back porch of my apartment. I hear the whistle and notice it’s one o’clock. The time the Mission school gets out.
And so, as the train rumples past into the unknown, I close my eyes and walk out to meet the kids again. I did this every day for six months. They approach in a long, staggered line, wearing uniforms, smiling. And one by one, they tell me about their day, show me their school papers. There are more hugs, a steady stream of connection, and a sentiment that all orphans yearn to hear.
“Welcome home,” I say, over and over again. “Welcome home.”