My homecoming

Sometimes,
I daydream about
homecomings.

What it would be like to
go back to a place
still damp with
the sweetness of childhood
and know that you are
Safe
because you are
Home.

Some nights
I close my eyes and
pray for a dream that would
feel so real,
it really wouldn’t have to be a dream,
like I could just
play pretend
for a few subconscious hours.

My homecoming fantasies,
they’ve always been the same…

I’m walking down the driveway,
up the stone stairs,
hand on the gold knob of the front door
and before I can turn it
the door opens
and there they are –

My mom first,
Laughter,
and red lipstick
and smile electric.

Then my dad,
booming voice,
arms outstretched,
ready to lift me off my feet and twirl me around,
because I am and will always be
his little girl.

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Yes,
this kind of homecoming sounds like
Bliss.

Bliss that
adulthood and responsibility
told me was impossible.

But sometimes I indulge myself and think about
what it might feel like
to be welcomed home.

What I hadn’t realized all these years
is that my homecoming
was coming,
I had just been too focused on
what wasn’t
to sense
what could be.

***

The sun had long been set
by the time I arrived.

I sipped in my first breath of this new air,
heavy with humidity
and the scent of burning leaves,
and wheeled my bags a few hundred feet
past passport control
and armed policemen
to the airport exit.

I had not yet seen the Kigali skyline,
or the actual sky,
or even formulated a sentence,
when I felt it –
arms wrapped around me
in an embrace so strong
I felt like my feet were roots
immediately taking hold of new soil.
It was a hug that made me feel like I was missed,
like I was more safe now than I had ever been,
like I was
home.

The first minute of my journey in Rwanda
was not made of words or images;
it was made of an embrace.

***

I could go on to tell you about the things I saw…

Hill after hill covered in the most
lush, green nature I’ve ever seen.

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Women wrapped in fabrics of
blue as deep as oceans
and yellow as bright as perfectly ripe bananas.

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Alice (left) with her mother and sister outside their home in Gihembe Refugee Camp. I’m pretty sure there is nothing Alice can’t do.

Children who held hands as they
walked windy roads on their way to school,
a baby’s soft cheek pressed against her mother’s side.

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Any earthly words I could formulate
would in no way
be able to capture
even a fraction of
what my heart felt
when I was in Rwanda,
and what has stayed with me
since I left 17 days ago.

The closest I can come to describing this journey
is to say…

I knew who I was when I left for Rwanda.
But while I was there,
a true part of myself came alive
in a way that I had never seen before.
And now that I’ve lived that,
I am a different person.
I am more of the girl I was created to be.

Because
my going to Rwanda wasn’t merely about work,
about words
or photos
or trying to capture an experience to catalogue in a journal
or this blog.

My going to Rwanda was about something I couldn’t have guessed until
I arrived,
until I was embraced,
until I was with these young men and women
who I had only emailed with before.

My going to Rwanda was about
meeting family.

Yes,
family.

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Iranzi, Eric and Claude are from DR Congo, but have lived in a refugee camp for 20 years.

Because my definition of family has been
redefined.

I mean,
what is family, really?

Is it blood and DNA and genetics?
Is it paperwork and signatures and photo albums?
Is it when you’re able to say, “Oh my goodness, I’m turning into my mother!”?

If I were to collect responses from every corner of the globe,
my guess is that most responses would sound something
like these.

As a child,
my answer would have been some smattering of these statements, too.

Not anymore.

My family
is deeper than blood.

Family
cannot be wrapped up in a package
where you can tell that everyone is related
because they have the same nose, or skin color, or laugh.

11295936_10204847174404067_7145746337936865410_n

Jessica and Jacky live out kindness and faith. They have visions of rising Rwanda’s agriculture industry to another level.

Family
is story.

Family
is spirit.

Family
is opening your heart to be
knit with the threads of those
who extend to you the gift of
holding their heart
and bearing the fullness of their depths.

I believe each one of us
is woven into a
tapestry
that is made with threads of
thousands of colors,
not of the same texture
or type
or size.

In Rwanda,
my heart became stitched with the hearts of
my brothers and sisters.

I met family
who are the definition of hope
and resilience.

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Fabiola was orphaned in the Rwandan Genocide, but the bond she has with her brothers and sisters is life-giving to witness.

I stood with young men and women
who have faced trials
more challenging than most of us
could ever imagine.

And despite those trials,
they choose JOY.

I held hands with my family
as we declared that
we do not walk alone.
We are not forgotten.
Many of us may have lost earthly family,
but we have gained spiritual family
that is evidence of a Kingdom on earth.

Iranzi's words about his aunt and uncle will always remain in my heart. In fact, they've inspired me

Iranzi’s words about his aunt and uncle are some of the words that have inspired me the most.

I’ve never been with so many people my age
who could get me.

I’ve never felt the same trust
when sharing my story
as sharing it with people who have lived the same chapter of that story –
the chapter that reads orphan,
the book that is punctuated by death,
no matter how many times you try to re-write it.

But death is not the end of the story,
not even a running theme.

Death is part of our stories,
but we choose to not let it define us.

We choose life –
a life where we believe we are
worthy of being loved,
of being leaders,
of being held
and holding others.

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The best thing about Rwanda
was not the colors
or the wildlife
or even the culture of Peace – which was so present and powerful.

The best thing about Rwanda
was the gift of embrace –
embracing my brothers and sisters,
and being embraced by my brothers and sisters.

The best thing about this journey
was learning that
I am understood,
that I’m not alone.

The best thing
was being able to be real,
to not sugar-coat, or shy away, or create lies in order to make others feel more comfortable.

Never have I been with people who were so genuine.
Never have I been with people who spoke such truth in my life without trepidation.
Never have I laughed or cried or smiled as truly,
for my true self had never been alive to this capacity.

And now, as I sit here,
back in my Portland apartment,
it’s not the same Taylor
who sat here three weeks ago.

I am stronger.
I am truer.
I am redefined

for I have come Home.

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2 responses to “My homecoming

  1. Your exquisite words are proof that you are hope and resilience. Your parents’ loving, welcoming visions are real, spiritual and fixed deep in your soul….you idealize their open-armed homecoming because that is how they always embraced you. Finding your family across the sea in Rwanda grants you the deepest definition of ‘family’ since there you are loved as openly as you love…..now fully recognized, you will always be welcomed home in Rwanda. And Portland’s gift of continuity provides such a strong sense of belonging. Each homecoming must assure you that you are never really alone and beloved. Thank you for your many thoughtful columns and beautiful photos…they reflect what a meaningful life fabric you are weaving.

  2. I have anticipated this post for some time, knowing you were headed to Rwanda, and even more so after you returned. What a gift, Taylor. Susan Bagby sings your praises well in the comment above. I can only add a couple things: 1) That I am happy for you, knowing you met people who “get” you completely. 2) That it’s impossible to read your reads and view your photos (not just this one, but virtually everything you share on your blog) and not be moved. You have a unique voice and writing style. The more you share both, the better you make this world. Welcome home.

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