My nearly six-year-old has felt the strong tug of his South African roots these last three years. If my heart is buried beneath the purple bower of a Jacaranda tree in Pretoria, his must be blooming in the back yard of my father’s house where he first crawled, walked, and tasted the red dirt of our shared homeland.
His father and baby brother were both born in Michigan. But Jackson and I call the golden veld that stretches as flat and far as the eye can see beneath the Southern Cross home. We love the farmlands of Michigan, the family of the Midwest and the adopted home of the Washington, DC area. But we feel the gravitational pull of the south and winging our way home has been a gift we received with both hands.
To re-introduce my son to the places he has only walked in my memory – how does one put a price on that?
The land of lion parks, Appletizer, sunsets that set the skyline on fire, dust that burns noses and throats and makes eyes weep happy – this is home. The late night teas with family gathered three deep around the table, space heater warming up the corners of the room that the laughter missed, mint chocolate chip pudding on each plate and crumbs of the amazing day dusting our shirt fronts – this is home.
A complicated, beautiful land located on the southern most tip of a complicated and beautiful continent.
Because along with the love and the sunshine and the hope and the full helpings of family, there is another side to the homecoming. There must be if Jackson is to own the inheritance of this country that runs in his blood.
Today he came face to face with it for the first time.
He looked, he laughed, he played guitar on the jungle gym, he watched the big boys play soccer, and he told me he’d made a new friend. Then he climbed up into my arms and hugged me as tight as he could, told me he wished he could hug me tighter and whispered desperate into my ear, “I don’t want to live here, mama.”
And there’s no neat Bible verse to sum it all up and explain it – there’s just the dirt road that stretches for miles and the dust that flies around the soccer ball and half a dozen big boys while the littles climb up and run down a pile of stones for fun in the early afternoon sunshine that has us all squinting against the light.
This is the story of many, many South Africans and my parents are brave enough not to close their eyes, so I take my son by the hand and bravely show him how to open his too – to this inheritance of the land he asks me each night if we can stay in just one more day.
The inheritance of children left orphaned, abandoned, and sick. South Africa is rich with these precious souls. Rich with their smiles and their unquenchable hope. They took us by the hand today and lead us into their world. It looked a lot like ours – food, games, friends. In fact, it was so much like ours on the outside it made me run desperate circles on the inside.
There is a boy the age of my son; there is a baby the age of my daughter; there is the woman who cares for all these kids holding my baby.
I swallow my sadness down. They are not interested in my pity. This day is not about me. I take the small hands offered and we run at the sun. We wrestle and chase and take endless photos till my small boy finds his way into my lap and wants his own place back.
We watch potatoes peeled by the bucket load and admire the strong arms that stir stywe pap into the evening meal. We open our whole hearts to where they live and work hard to invite them in. The only thing holding us back is ourselves.
The only thing holding us back is ourselves.