When he pushed his two suitcases through the sliding glass doors after the security guard had lazily glanced at his passport and matched the name on it with his Lufthansa paper ticket, he had no idea what kind of welcome, if any, awaited him on the other side of the Atlantic. He had just said goodbye – a very long goodbye as goodbyes in India on airports where a family member is headed into unknown and uncharted tend to be – to about two dozen friends and family. Some of them managed to smile, while others made valiant but unsuccessful attempts to hold back tears.
They stood outside the glass wall which encased the terminal, cheeks pressed against the window, hands raised in goodbye and blessings for as long as they could see him as he finally passed out of sight through the Customs check-point (yes, there is a Customs check on departure in India). He had no idea how long it would be before he would see any of them again, so he waited till the final call for departing passengers to leave their sight. There was no way for him to know how long it was going to be between departure and the homecoming, because when you leave the safety of the shore and surrender to the flow, life happens.
He landed in New York city’s JFK on a crisp autumn morning, took a bus to switch airports to catch a Piedmont flight to Roanoke, where he was received by some volunteers of the Indian Students’ Association. What a wonderful act of kindness that was, which brought much relief to a weary traveler after thirty six hours of traveling. It felt like a bit of a homecoming, to be surrounded by people who spoke your language. During orientation, half of which he had missed because he was late getting to the USA because of a visa delay, he ran into a very good friend who he had known since third grade! Another mini homecoming. And then, another friend from Delhi, who spoke his grandmother’s native tongue. An even bigger homecoming.
In his excellent TED talk titled “Where is Home”, Pico Iyer says that “Home is where you Stand”. By that measure, I have had a lot of homes across the world. From the easternmost parts of Assam to some of the northernmost parts of Kashmir, I have stood and felt a connection to people who have extended great love with a welcoming heart. Criss-crossing the Northern states of India several times on multi-day train trips, I made an attempt to get off the train at every single station. Now that I think about it, it was as if I was trying to feel at home at every single pause of the journey as I felt my feet touch the platform. It was as if I was feeling the flow of the earth under my feet at every opportunity I would get.
So, what does all this story-telling have to do with homecoming and spirituality? I had never heard of the word until I first came across it in the context of alumni returning ‘home’ to Virginia Tech during football Saturdays in the fall. Such a beautiful word. Homecoming. It creates a vision of those who have graduated from a station in life and traveled on to explore new frontiers returning home. A bit like the splashdown of the two American astronauts a few weeks ago after they had spent a few weeks on the Space Station. Or a bit like those who spend weeks preparing for, and then climbing some of the highest mountain peaks, returning home weary and falling into the arms of their beloveds and getting some well-deserved rest. Homecoming is thus a time for renewal, of sharing stories about our travels, and then setting out again on another new journey.
In a spiritual context, homecoming can be viewed as a return to source. It isn’t connected to a particular age or a particular physical place. It is connected to a return to the source that resides in our heart – not just the physical heart, by the spiritual heart that is our consciousness beyond the mind-matter complex. In fact, one could posit that in the spiritual context, there is actually no Homecoming, because we never really left. We may spend our entire life being unaware of who we are, and yet, the consciousness, the spiritual heart is always with us. At any given moment, when our awareness shifts to It, we are aware that we are home.
Home is where we stand in awareness.
It was twenty seven months before he returned. In the interim, there were short phone calls (they had to be short at almost two dollars a minute), long hand-written letters, bouts of home-sickness, regular instances of culture shock, many new friendships formed with Virginia natives, and an awareness that it was beginning to feel a little bit like a new home. He was beginning to enjoy the New River, the new flow, the new awareness of floating and letting be.
What is your story of homecoming? What does the word mean to you, remind you of? What emotions or memories or awareness does it invite? Do reflect, and then share if you are so led to do so.
P.S. Join us in our weekly gathering with the #SpiritChat community on twitter to share some thoughts on Homecoming. We will meet Sunday September 6 at 9amET (almost to the day when I first landed in JFK all those years back). I will bring some questions that will act as place holders for the real conversation that will happen in the many tributaries of the main flow. Namaste – @AjmaniK
One of my favorite bridges — I instantly feel welcomed, at home, a sense of Homecoming every time I stand on it…