When I lived in Gera (in Germany) as a missionary, we used to take the streetcar to church. The cars don't run as often Sunday mornings, so we were always careful to be early to the stop and while we waited I'd watch the birds flocking: they'd alternate walking on the ground and flying en masse in a triangular sort of pattern as more birds gathered. Those Sunday mornings were the most relaxing part of most weeks. There was something almost magical about watching the birds rise and descend; it was no wonder more and more birds came to join them.
During the two years of my mission, I didn't see any relatives--I did meet several people who had known my maternal grandfather, but that happens anywhere in the world you go, so it hardly counts. I came home in November 2004. I'd loved my mission and would have gladly stayed longer, but a part of me must have been waiting to be home. In the first few weeks, I was totally absorbed by the presence of my parents and younger siblings: thanks to the time change, I'd wake up very early in the mornings, do my own studying, and then spend their mornings with them, hovering over kitchen and dining room helping get food ready and read to the kids, my body almost falling into patterns of movement that complemented theirs.
After a few weeks at home, I went to Boston where my brother was studying and spent a week there with him until we took a bus together to New York to meet up with my sister, plus the rest of my immediate family and my mother's parents who were visiting. Such was my wanderlust: to go from this sibling to that.
I spent two quarters in school and in the summer of 2005 took to the road again. First, I volunteered to be a backup driver for my closest friend while he went from our homes in Ohio to college in Utah. After some time in Utah with sister and aunt, I volunteered to help my grandpa as he passed through on some errands in California and got to visit relatives from both sides of the family in San Diego, Los Angeles, Tulare County, and the Bay Area in the process. From there I drove east with another aunt, back to Utah, and eventually north to Idaho to visit still another aunt. I crossed the country from family to family two more times that summer, and it occurs to me today that maybe I was flocking, like those birds do, moving from here to there less to get anywhere than to gather, for the privilege of getting to drive with people I belonged to.
In our culture, we tend to think of time and space as resources: things to be used, measured, meted out, evaluated for efficiency. Things we can somehow own. But it was so sweet that summer to think more like a bird, to let time and space be mediums through which we encounter one another, something I share instead spend or save, occupy instead of own.
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