I drive by miles of cornfields every day to and from work. I watch as the fluttering leaves and straight stalks slowly grow. I pass only two or three cars on my 20 mile commute. I arrive at work energized, ready to meet with students, plan lectures, research, and write. And I return home relaxed, looking forward to watering my tomato and herb garden and then cooking a homemade dinner. On my frequent traveling adventures doing student oversight or recruiting, I enjoy the time in other places, but look forward to returning home to the peace of this place of belonging that I’ve created. After a year of upheaval and change, I did not expect to find this harmony. But one day, I looked around and realized that I was happy. It was an unexpected moment of grace that has continued with me—quiet in my heart—the whole summer.
This is not the home I expected. I never dreamt of moving to Ohio. Never. It was not on my list of “places that would be cool to live.” In my mind, it was sleepy flyover country. After I accepted this job last spring, I decided to drive from my current home in Washington, DC to my new home in northwestern Ohio. I wanted a sense of place, of knowing where I was in the continent. More than two hours before reaching my destination, the gps steered me off of the interstate, and I just kept driving. There was nothing—just corn. And I started panicking. By the time I arrived at the University and the tiny town it is situated in, I was on the verge of tears and sent a profanity laden text to some BCC blogger friends. Bottom line translation? What the everloving @#$% was I thinking!?! Emeritus blogger Amri wrote me back and said. “Don’t worry, you’ll like it. You can buy half a pig and put it in your deep freeze.” I started crying.
But I did it anyways, I moved and almost immediately fell in love with my job. It made up for the fact that I didn’t really have any friends, and that my neighbors didn’t talk to me, and that one day when I wanted to make curry I couldn’t find coconut milk anywhere in the entire town. My students are from all over the world, and I adore them. They are funny and smart and idealistic. I love teaching. I just didn’t love teaching in Ohio. Friends started sensing that I was fraying at the edges a bit, and one by one they flew out to visit me, connecting my life—stitching together the old and the new. (How in the world was I blessed with such kind friends?) And I found I could settle in. I started making friends here. But for almost a year, it didn’t feel like home. I felt like an alien. Until one day, it was home.
As my Mormon family and friends have been celebrating Pioneer Day this week, I keep thinking about how my ancestors must have felt as they approached Utah. They didn’t drive through desolation for two hours, they had been walking through it for two months. They wound up in a place with no trees, no water, and not a lot of food. They only benefit? It was relatively empty, and they could stay isolated from religious persecution for 10 years. We celebrate Brigham Young’s pronouncement of “This is the Place!” when he first saw the Salt Lake Valley, but I imagine that more than a few people were thinking “THIS is the place? You have got to be kidding me….” But somehow it became home. It became home to my great-great-grandmother who walked barefoot across the country so she could save her shoes for when she arrived in Utah, only to find that they didn’t fit anymore. It became home for my great-grandfather who traveled back and forth from Norway to the U.S. twice before he could stomach settling in Utah permanently. But for me, it was always home. The home I was born to. The home I always feel safe in, because there is always a mountain at my back. It makes me wonder, if I’m ever blessed with children, how will they think about these cornfields?