I go through this every time I return here from Kentucky to a greater or lesser extent. I go from being surrounded by the hills, the trees, the extra sets of helping hands afforded by grandparents, and the quiet suburban street where I grew up to the house that needs cleaned, the cars that need mufflers, the projects waiting to be done, the diapers, the noise of kids fighting and threatening to fight, and the relationships that feel more like your next chess move than a book in a cozy chair. It can sometimes be a little too much for a girl.
But, as I was told by a friend recently, I'm ruined anyway, because I am not completely comfortable in the nice and the quiet anymore, either. "We're becoming more like third-culture kids," she said. And she's right. Not at home here, not at home there, but at home with people who know the feeling. Sometimes. I guess I'm not entirely third-culture, either. Is this what Jesus was getting at when He said we live as "aliens and strangers in this world?" Maybe.
I have this never-ending desire to have both worlds -- the white, privileged one and the diverse, under-privileged one -- be together. When I'm alone in the woods, enjoying the sounds of a stream and the flutterings around me, I wish my 12-year-old friend could experience it with me. (But then I wouldn't be alone in the woods, would I?) When I'm here at home, I wish old friends could know the joy of having half the neighborhood (the african-american middle-school girls, the preschoolers from church, the older neighbor who wishes he would've gone to college, and the friend just completing his master's) gather on your front porch -- together -- to see your kids, chat with you, and play with your dog. I wish my friends here could all have the blessing of being taken out to eat at a nice restaurant with their parents. I wish my friends there could have the blessing of receiving a 12 pack of Coke from a youth who brought it to your house because he was just thinking about you when he saw it.
In many ways, then, I have the best of both worlds. And I am glad for that. I'm glad to be able to share both worlds with my children. I'm anxious to see what sort of people this kind of life will make of my kids. My hope is that they will be gracious, generous, thankful, loving, and more naturally accepting of others than me. Heck, I hope those same things for myself in a few years!
But some days it messes with you. Some days I really appreciate the good about both worlds and some days I find it easier to point the finger and despair over the faults of both. Days like today are a mixed bag. There are the adults putting up walls of lies and pride that hinder our relationships with them and with their children. But there's the grandma who is glad to have someone on her team wanting to keep her grandson from failing school. There are the three groups of kids walking the streets, all cursing and talking about fighting each other. But then there's the truly tough boy with his fists up who has his way of letting Pat know he finds comfort in knowing Pat would come to make them talk it out. There's the disappointment of finding out one of "ours" is failing three core classes at school. But there's the joy of seeing her smile when her friends sing "Happy Birthday" to her at her lunch table in school.
But does a song from friends do more to a person than failing in school? Is the grandma's kid really going to do better in school than the hundreds of other failing kids we know?
Just when I think I am going to be overwhelmed, I look back to my time in the woods, away from everything. I remember the little taste of peace. I look around at my neighbors trying against all odds to make life better. I remember that we don't labor in vain. And I look forward to the day when these worlds will collide. I remember the promise of something New. I remember that one day we will all sit around the same dinner table and swap stories. It'll be a new world, then, and we will be aliens no longer, but friends.