You may have read a version of this story before, but what can I say … It was one of those defining moments in my life.

It was the time I stumbled and fell over an innocent, four-worded question.

To her credit, she waited until I had stowed my carry-on in the overhead compartment and settled into my seat before she launched into the obligatory small-talk.

We were, after all, about to spend twelve hours with our elbows touching, and I’d never even met the fifty-something woman who had scored the aisle seat next to me.

“Are you heading home?” she asked.

And that’s where I tripped over my tongue.

My mind.

My heart.

I hesitated.  A little too long.

Then finally, “Um … yeah.  Well, no.  Uh … I’m not sure.”

I wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d flagged down the flight attendant right then and there.  I can picture the hypothetical conversation now: “Um, excuse me, miss, but this girl doesn’t know where she’s going.”

How embarrassing.

“My mom died this morning,” I blurted out, the aircraft still grounded on the Cape Town runway.

The kind woman gushed condolences and well-intentioned words of sympathy before I could attempt to redeem my earlier fumble.

“I’ve been living in Africa for the past eight years and my mom just died in my hometown in MIchigan.  So, I guess I’m heading home.  But not really.  I mean, my husband and kids are still here in Cape Town, so …”

My voice drifted, and I realized the answer to her original question hadn’t become any clearer for either of us.

Was I heading home?  Or not?

The conflicting voices of my heart kickstarted a long-lasting soul search.

Where was my home?

 

 

That conversation happened three years ago.

In the meantime, I’ve thought and even written a lot about the concept of home.

And what I’ve come to learn is this:

This is not it.

This life, this living in between, this sojourn … it’s all temporary.

And there is an eternal.

Ever since my mom died and I’ve started thinking a whole lot more about heaven, I’ve made a more conscious effort in my thinking, my praying, my writing, my parenting — to remember that every day is one step closer to eternity.

 

 

And hopefully the next time I step onto a plane and get asked the same question, “Are you heading home?” … I’ll be able to answer with confidence, “Yes.  Yes, I am.”

Not because of my earthly destination, but because of my hope in eternity.

 

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I settled down into seat 34G, disappointed that I didn’t get the aisle. Well, I guess it was to be expected, considering I had only booked my flights from South Africa to the United States that same morning.

The 50-something woman who had scored the aisle seat next to me waited until she heard the click of the seatbelt between my fingers before she tried to break the ice. “So, are you headed home?” she asked innocently. Little did she know just how loaded those five words really were.

I paused. The hesitation was just a little too long. But I genuinely did not know what to say. “Well, I … um … I guess so. Well … no, not really. Um … I’m not sure.”

The poor woman probably wondered if I suffered from some type of mental illness. Sometimes I wonder the same myself. My soul stirred with emotional turmoil as I fumbled for a way to articulate the present reality.

“My mom died this morning,” I blurted out. There was simply no way to cushion the blow. “I’m from the States, but I’ve been living in Cape Town for the past nine years. And I got the call this morning that my mom died in Michigan. So, here I am.”

Was I going home? Technically, yes. Holland, Michigan, had been the only town I had lived in for the first 21 years of my life. But when I moved to Cape Town and married a South African, more than a handful of people urged me to stop referring to Michigan as “home.”

“You’re married now,” they said. “This is your home. You can’t keep calling that place your home, because you’re establishing a new home now.” They were quite adamant about the whole thing, so I made a valiant effort to catch my tongue before the word “home” slipped out in reference to my hometown.

This is the introduction to an article originally published on Ungrind on April 17, 2012.  Read the conclusion by clicking here:

http://ungrind.org/2012/heading-home/

This post is Day 3 in a 31 Days series entitled, ‘Defining Home.’  Yesterday I shared my personal definition of ‘home.’  Come back tomorrow to find out how this blog got its name. 

Photo credit: epSos.de