Welcome Home

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.

Surrounded and missing it already.

Surrounded and missing it already.

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.

Ram Pal during the Summer Games.

Ram Pal during the Summer Games.

Santoshi wanted a running start, launching herself into my arms.

Santoshi with a homemade mulberry popsicle.

Santoshi with a homemade mulberry popsicle.

Serena approached shyly, acting embarrassed, hugging from the side.

Sarena and her beautiful smile.

Sarena and her beautiful smile.

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.

Shane looking for some ears to grab.

Shane looking for some ears to grab.

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.

Kureena, Shakshi and Gladys competing in the mustache contest on Pirate Day.

Kureena, Shakshi and Gladys competing in the girl’s mustache contest on Pirate Day.


Sheetal getting to be a princess at the Frozen Ball.

Sheetal getting to be a princess at the Frozen Ball.

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.”

  • gator1bill
    Posted at 20:24h, 05 August

    What a wonderful ride you’ve given us, Uncle. Can’t wait for ‘A Man with a Mission’ (feeble attempt at a working title for the sequel). And remember, you always have a room at Gator Manor — Alligator William

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 16:21h, 06 August

      Thanks, Billy. It’s been great to travel with you…again. Hope to see you soon.

  • tpbrooks
    Posted at 20:52h, 05 August

    Welcome home, John.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 16:22h, 06 August

      Thanks, Tim. I’m living not for from the Great Lost Bear, in your neighborhood. We should grab a drink.

  • Leza Christine Carter
    Posted at 21:02h, 05 August

    I will miss your posts, brother! Send me a mailing address; I’ve something for you! Love and hugs-Leza

  • Rebecca Robinson
    Posted at 21:16h, 05 August

    Bittersweet feelings as your journey has ended, John. Welcome home…

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 16:26h, 06 August

      Thanks Rebecca. Its been great having you so involved on the blog.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:21h, 06 August

      Thanks Rebecca. You were one of my most consistent commenters. I really appreciate all your interest and encouragement. All the best. John

  • Peter Stadig
    Posted at 23:17h, 05 August

    Having followed you since February John, I’m a bit chagrined to be commenting for the 1st time now, but my inner Tolkien geek could not be dissuaded! Your feelings at journey’s end remind me of Frodo’s return to the Shire. When Merry comments that leaving the others in the fellowship behind one by one feels “like a dream that has slowly faded”, Frodo replies “Not to me, to me it feels more like falling asleep again”.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 16:30h, 06 August

      Yeah, it’s a strange feeling. Things here are so easy, clean, quiet, beautiful. And yet…it feels a bit unreal. After so much connection,to be liliterally surrounded by love, its hard to live by myself in a rented apartment. Well see what happens. Nice to here from you.

  • Rick Shipway , Banbasa, India
    Posted at 00:36h, 06 August

    Hi John, yeah, missing you too mate! Last night Malik was very sleepy at Supper time, it would be great if we could keep him awake! Clifton in his usual way calls out to the recumbent Malik behind him on the sofa. “Uncle John’s here!” Sleepy eyes are immediately open, scrambling up over his Dad’s back, eyes wide awake expectantly seeking his favourite Uncle with the incaptulating rapturous stories of Dinosaurs and Crocodiles. It was easy to keep him awake for the next 20 minutes after a dose of Uncle John memories. Love you John, we’re all missing you. Enjoy the next phase of your life. We are always ready and waiting for you. You are a very special person, not just in Malik’ life either! Love from us all here.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:19h, 06 August

      Thanks a million, Rick. Huge love right back atcha. See you soon.

  • Clifton Shipway
    Posted at 00:50h, 06 August

    Screw hugs, I am going to tackle you when I next see you. 🙂

    The office is not the same without you my friend. Thank you for the good times, the laughs, the ideas, the inspiration and most importantly for teaching me to be a better father to all the children here -not just my own.

    We all miss you here, the kids don’t like to talk about it because it hurts so much. Hurry up and do what you have to do over there so that we can be the ones standing out the front of the office welcoming you home.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:17h, 06 August

      Cant wait. Thanks for everything, Clifton.

  • Deirdre Nice
    Posted at 01:33h, 06 August

    It’s been fun to be along for the ride. Thanks for the experience.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:16h, 06 August

      Thanks Deirdre. Back in Portland for August isn’t a bad consolation. But I do miss the kids. Great to have you along for the ride.

  • dale
    Posted at 03:29h, 06 August

    Your ripple moves beyond you, and the kids at the orphanage,,,,,
    “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”- Helen Keller

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:15h, 06 August

      Love that quote. Thanks Dale.

  • Katie Singh Rana
    Posted at 15:56h, 06 August

    OK, ok, I started reading your blog – from January to August – and now I’m addicted. I’m not sure why didn’t read it before; maybe I knew I would need something to remember you by after you left me alone in this big scary office, defenseless against Clifton’s sarcastic comments aimed at me from the other room (come back!!!!). We all know where your real home is, so just do your thing and get yourself back here!!!

    By the way, I wish someone had made a video in the nursery on the night you left, after you were gone. I wish you could have seen me try to put 16 wailing, blubbering, snotty-nosed, teary-eyed children to bed. You are loved….

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:15h, 06 August

      Oh, I love this post. Thanks Katie. Sorry to abandon you with Clifton. That’s a lot to take all on your own. And thanks for the post-departure nursery image. Let’s plan a Skype bedtime story soon. I miss you, them, the whole rich experience. As a wise person once told me…now I just need to do my thing and get back there. All the best.

  • cabinjournals
    Posted at 16:44h, 06 August

    Welcome home John. I remember you imagining how your time away would unfold – the magic found you! You’re an inspiration…See you in PoTown soon!

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 20:11h, 06 August

      Are you up this way, Jenny? Hope all is well and see you soon.

  • MomInME
    Posted at 03:08h, 07 August

    Welcome home seems relative now for you. Where is home? Where does your heart lie? Please don’t end this timeless reminder of the connection we all long for. Your experience in India does not end in India. Please share more of your journey. We all await the next stone upon which you find to comfort your foot upon. Whether it is nestled close in a cluster or a challenging leap away, we will follow beautiful you.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 03:49h, 07 August

      What an amazing comment. Thanks for writing. This is just a brief stop on the way. Much more ahead. All the best.

  • Bruce Webb
    Posted at 12:45h, 12 August

    Hey John – Welcome back. I understand your reentry challenges as it always seems harder to come back than to leave – at least for me. Plan to come out to Gorham for dinner with us sometime soon – I would love to get caught up on your adventures in India.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 03:29h, 24 August

      Thanks for dinner, Bruce. So great to spend some time with you and your wife. Safe travels wherever you go next. Thanks again.

  • TJ
    Posted at 03:19h, 24 August

    Hello John,

    Welcome back. Thanks for your story and your blog. I learned about you and the orphanage through a press herald article a while back, and found the combination inspirational. I joined the campaign and started getting more involved in some local ESOL work, and am loving it. Thanks for the inspiration, I just wanted you to know that your storytelling makes a positive impact in the world.

    • John Marshall
      Posted at 03:30h, 24 August

      So glad to hear, TJ. Thanks for coming along on the trip and for getting involved.