by Alyssa von Helms
October 18, 2017
Do you ever feel like you’ve been trying to put down roots for a long time? I do. A lot. For those who haven’t, it’s like waiting for important news, searching for something in the dark, and that horrible the-bottom-of-my-brain-dropped-out feeling that always comes after you walk into a room and forget why you’re there.
Sometimes I forget why I’m here.
Here: late-twenties, single, living with my parents, working on a passion project in my free time, trying not to panic when I remember where I thought I’d be at this age (and am not).
For somebody who wants to find one place and plant herself in it, I do an awful lot of moving around. At 17 I went to college in Virginia, then moved home to California for a couple years before taking off to Scotland for more schooling. I lived there for a year and half, then moved back—home again, home again, jiggity jig—like a human boomerang. I’m lucky to have a place to come home to, I know, but as the years go on it has become harder to stay rootless. It has become harder to stay, rootless.
I used to think that roots came with places. That if I could just stay in one place long enough, it would become home. Partly that’s true. But I think the reason that Dorothy’s there’s no place like home rings true for so many of us is less about location and more about the people we find under our mental roofs.
I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when a collection of friends—old, young, parents, kids—gathered around the hospital bed of a young man, not even thirty, dying of cancer. Many of them flew in when they heard the news. I made an airport run myself, picked up a friend I’ve known since we were in the womb and drove straight to the hospital to watch Matt breathe … and breathe … and leave. I don’t know if he was aware of us but I was: tears and snot and tissues, laughter and jokes, our heads on each other’s shoulders and our hands anchoring Matt until the hours turned small and he went home to Heaven.
I felt my roots so deeply that day. I had a taste, a moment of relief from the longing to belong. I was surrounded by friends who also call Heaven their home, all of us watching one of our own go on ahead. That is where my roots are. That’s why I’m constantly searching, fretfully trying to settle, and not finding anywhere that clicks. My longing to settle is actually, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “the desire for my true country, which I shall not find ‘til after death.” It was something I knew but needed to be reminded of, especially now as I fall back into my daily rhythms.
I still want to live somewhere with true seasons, to have a home of my own and a family to fill it, to see my passion project become a reality, to have a few more goals checked off my list. But I know that even if I had those things there still would be times I’d feel unsettled, weightless, rootless. That’s as it should be. “For they are not the thing itself,” Lewis says; “they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Sometimes I forget what I am here.
Here: happy, hugged, growing my soul, trying to ignore the greener grass, “blooming where I’m planted.” Working on my roots.
Alyssa von Helms is the administrative assistant to our Women’s Ministries team, and currently (still) working on her first novel.