The dehumidifier broke the other day, and with it went the off-kilter rattle, wheeze and hum to which I’d grown so accustomed. The new machine is better — gathers more of this peninsula’s ever-present moisture, runs more efficiently — but it has a quiet gentle hum I barely recognize. The old noise was the backdrop to months worth of midnights, and the new noise is almost unnerving in its calmness.
The house is that way right now too.
For the last week, the walls of this house held extra laughter, extra noise, extra people, and extra fun. Today, mom and dad are driving back through the Georgia rain, heading up past Tennessee, beyond Illinois, where they’ll slide into the snowy land of Minnesota, home — far away from here.
The house is quiet, and even the sun is subdued.
It’s hard to live far away. They’re not over the river and through the woods; they’re over dozens of rivers and through a thousand miles of woods, and it’s impossible to cross that distance as quickly as a map can fold.
We’ve always been a little far-flung, my family, when it comes to the places we pound our tent stakes. We’ve always been sojourners, the kind of people who put down roots everywhere. We’ve always been this way, since I was a little girl in my first family and now as a wife and mother in my second family. In English, the word “sojourner” means “those who stay somewhere temporarily”; but in Chinese, the word “sojourn” (寄居, jì jū) translates as the idea of living away from home.
And that’s the kind of people we are. We’re not transient, fleeting travelers, floating hither and thither — no. We’re the kind of people who find a place, hammer in the tent stakes with wild abandon, and pour our hearts out onto whatever unfamiliar soil is beneath our feet.
In Chinese, the hermit crab isn’t called a hermit at all. In Chinese, it’s the sojourner crab (寄居蟹, jì jū xiè) — the sojourner! This has nothing at all to do with hiding or burrowing away from everything, but everything to do with seeing the empty shell in front of you, and being all in when it comes to making this unfamiliar borrowed place a home.
This unfamiliar soil feels like a borrowed place, sometimes. But I’m all in.
I’m all in, filling all the corners and fully living, until the time comes to seize another borrowed shell on some other shore.