I explained to my 9th graders one day that I'm getting self-conscious about the way I pronounce "bag." Everyone outside the Dakotas says it with a short a, like flag and tag and all those other words I also pronounce with long a's instead. Bayg. Flayg. Tayg. People are usually pretty forgiving, because "bayg" still sounds like "bag"--and also, why am I using the term "forgiving" as if using regional dialects are sinful? (Well, in the case of "warsh," then yes, that's a sin.)
But I also say "route" with an "ow" (as in "Ow, he bit me!") and "root" with an "uh" (as in, "Uh, you're taking the wrong route"), and sometimes people look at me like they can't quite figure out what I'm getting at.
It's fun to poke apart accents and terminology and pronunciations--until someone says you're doing it wrong. There's this funny fence that comes up inside of you, and you defend your words, and it stings because now this is about more than words. If you are wrong, so is the entire community that taught you to speak. Suddenly it feels like more than a discussion about "pop" and "soda." It is about home.
For four years, this city was home to me. In autumn, leaves break open with color like fireworks, and although I've now spent six autumns away from it, my daydream self sometimes slips back onto campus and climbs four flights of stairs to old classrooms. My real self will find posters of the skyline on Etsy and get a little teary. There are people in Minnesota still walking around with pieces of my heart. Home.
This is the city where you can't be anonymous no matter how hard you try, where it's possible to walk from a friend's house on one end of town to a friend's house on the other (provided you have good shoes), where you could leave for fifty years and still come back to find that so-and-so grew up with so-and-so, and they were friends with your grandpa's cousins. The prairie is as deep as it is wide, and it is home.
This pueblo is home for the moment, this tiny place cuddled around the edges of a European metropolis. I love that everyone walks everywhere and that every detail down to the door hinges have been crafted with care. I love that you can go far away from everything you know and still find something familiar. Home.
Home isn't just about location. Home is carried inside you.
And yet, tomorrow will be Christmas Eve. I will be eating tacos with my WorldVenture teammates, celebrating the way Light broke into the world and took its first breaths in a manger. It will be home and not home all at once, and even though I know it's just as warm in North Dakota as it is here, there's something else that isn't quite the same.
Christmas Eve to me will always be candlelight and old VCR recordings of my brother exclaiming, "We both got very expensive presents for Christmas!" It is secret codes on all the tags my dad wrote and reading the Scriptures and cat ornaments on the tree, the relics of childhood. For the first time in seven months, I feel the gap of my mom and dad, my brother, my grandma, to the point of tears. They are the people who taught me to say "bayg" and "ruuhht" and to be kind to others even when you don't feel like it. This Christmas Eve, I will not be sitting in the brown-carpeted living room where I've spent every Christmas Eve of my life. It's because of who I became, which is because of the people who loved me enough to let me go for a little while. They are my family. They are home.