After finishing my coursework for my first year of seminary, I hopped on a plane and visited my daughter at her college in Seattle and then swung down to California for some badly needed R&R with friends and family. It was a tremendous delight to see my oldest friend and catch up with her, to hang out with my sisters and their families, and to see all my friends in Sacramento. I also attended a “retirement” party for me and three other American River college faculty/deans. And then, at the very end, I got to see all my St. Francis Episcopal Church friends and clergy, not to mention our bishop.
Without a doubt, the number one question I am asked is, “Are you coming back to California?” I think I heard that from everyone except my oldest friend, who knows I don’t like to be asked that. The reason is that I just don’t know, and I don’t really like not knowing. I can accept as a fact of life that I don’t know how things are going to turn out, but that doesn’t make the cluelessness all that enjoyable.
I received this question with much more equanimity in the fall of 2009, when many students at Yale would ask me the same question: Will you go back to California? I had no problem saying, “I don’t know,” because I had three years to go in seminary, and even I don’t sweat things that are three years out. But now I have watched a number of my fellow students graduate and get ordained (as deacons first in the Episcopal tradition), and I fly between California and Connecticut, Connecticut and California, and I don’t know where home is.
You would think that I might not like living out of a suitcase, but I truly enjoyed hanging out at my sister’s house, watching my niece and nephew breeze in and out, debating politics and religion with my brother-in-law, and just looking at the beautiful oak trees and lavender and roses around her home.
I also truly enjoyed hanging out at my friends’ homes in the Sacramento area and smelling the smells of the air there. As I ran on the roads in the Sierra foothills, I remembered how much I love the place, the people, the smell of the dry air in Sacramento, the nearby wineries….
With all these wonderful experiences, I was a little afraid that I would come home and hate my apartment in New Haven, where the road construction is never done and I hear sirens throughout the day. But in fact, I smelled the ocean air as soon as I got home, and it smelled as sweet to me as the dry lavender smells of Sacramento or the piny crisp air of Redwood City. I seem to be just as happy here even though I miss great places to run, and I sometimes have to fall asleep to the sounds of those trucks driving by.
The truth is, I doubt my next step in life will be decided by how much I like the environment. I seem equally happy in cities and in exurbs. My next step in life will be a “call” of some sort, a pulling toward some ministry, and at the moment I believe that it will be in an urban church. Since there are cities everywhere, I haven’t exactly narrowed the choices yet, and of course, one goes where one is wanted–and called.
So if I roll my eyes when you ask me if I’m going back to California, you know why. Only God knows.