My parents did several things wrong in the raising of a demure and sedate daughter.
First, they answered all of my questions. All. Of. Them. Usually more thoroughly than I hoped or planned. Which made “do you like humping Daddy?” one of my more awkward 2nd grade moments. Thanks, Mama. Thanks a lot.
Second, when I was in my formative years, around age 11, my parents moved our family to Indonesia.
And not to the modernized part of Indonesia, either, where people wear – oh, you know – clothes. Nope. My parents moved us to the highlands of Papua where string, gourds, pieces of bone and splashes of paint were more the fashion.
Arguably, Papua is one of the most remote places in the world, and, in this writer’s humble opinion, certainly the most hauntingly beautiful.
Frankly, though, it’s very hard to remain demure or sedate when you’re learning about the scientific pendulum effect from watching a tribal woman’s elongated breasts swing back and forth (and forth and back) while farming fields of sweet potatoes with her darling babe in a string bag on her back…. or while trekking up a mountain behind a man wearing a gravity-defying gourd tied complexly around his privates. I’ll tell ya, to my parents’ chagrin, I found myself asking a lot more questions.
My dad’s flying career was varied. So much so that one might rightfully call it messy. From flying OV-10’s for the United States Marine Corps to busing the public around on commercial airliners, my dad eventually moved to bush flying. In Papua, he flew Cessna taildraggers for Mission Aviation Fellowship, spending his days (and not a few uncomfortable nights) flying in some of the most dangerous terrain in the world in order to deliver missionaries, food, medical supplies, and the occasional, penis-gourd-clad tribal chief to remote villages across the island. Really, if you ever have the opportunity, you should buy my dad a beer and listen to him describe the act of putting a 5-point harness on a man wearing a dried squash on his special place. It’s a story worth hearing.
Demure and sedate? Bye, bye!
For me, the preadolescent child who was plucked from the mystifying social puzzle that was middle school in Southern California and deposited in the middle of the jungle with a bunch of shoe-shunning, monsoon-rain-dancing, water-fall-plunging missionary kids… it was Heaven. A place to run wild and free. And Heaven turned quickly into the Home of my Heart.
There are people who say, “home is where the heart is,” and I’m certain they’re right. But I have to say, I often interpret that statement to mean what home isn’t… a physical place, a geographic location, or a point on a map. To mean that you can carry your sense of home with you, like a snail with its shell. To mean that home is about the people and the love, not about the hearth.
And that’s true.
But it’s not the whole truth. Because, sometimes – maybe every once in a great while – home is about a place.
Usually, I’m so focused on my current house – keeping it clean (ha!), keeping it blood-free, and keeping it safe, stable and loving – giving it heart – that I forget about my childhood home.
But I was reminded a lot of home this week, because on Friday I learned that a missionary pilot from Papua died in a crash.
I didn’t know Paul Westlund personally. But, as all missionary kids from Papua do, I have a long and bittersweet history becoming acquainted with death, so each new one brings with it an almost compulsive examining of the wounds on my heart. Because we all know more than one pilot – and more than a few friends, too – who gave their lives doing what love does.
I went to spy on Paul’s Facebook page as soon as I learned the news. (Oh, how times have changed from the days we had only radios and telexes to communicate!) And I was struck by Paul’s info page where, in the “About Paul” section, it simply read, “If you are breathing, you should be laughing.”
If you are breathing, you should be laughing.
Yes. This is what I remember about Home: the bone-deep memory that we breathed deep of life. And, on the exhale, we laughed for joy and for the great gift that comes from risking it all to love… and to love well.
Today, I will breathe deep. And then, I will laugh.
Selamat jalan, Paul.
Special thanks to Malcolm Wilson, photographer extraordinaire and my childhood friend, who recently took all of the amazing Papua photographs used in this post. He titled his albums “Home,” and I couldn’t agree more. Excellent work and terima kasih, Malcolm! (And, um, nice hat.)