Welcome Back!

What a complicated greeting that is! 

That statement conjures up a myriad of emotions within me.

To welcome someone back implies that the welcomed person has been away or separated from the welcomer. It also implies that the orientation of “from” is shared by both people in order for the “back” to be accomplished. But…what if it isn’t?

The first, and strongest image that comes to mind with this phrase is that of me, as a child, returning home. That sounds slightly odd I know, until I tell you that I didn’t know where home was…because I’m a fourth-generation missionary kid. As a child, I knew my parents considered the United States to be their home…but I didn’t. My home was where I lived…where my friends were…where my life was…which wasn’t the United States. They were excited whenever furlough time came…I was not. They were happy to leave for the United States…I was happy to leave the United States. So, when we were greeted by blood relations (who were strangers to me), invariably the greeting was some form of “Welcome Home!” Not wanting to betray my parents’ loyalties, I smiled and responded appropriately…all the while wishing I were in my real home. 

We returned to the United States, permanently, during war-time conditions for our host country. All of us had been traumatized by the war and I felt like a refugee…banished from my home. This time, when we arrived in the United States, no one welcomed us back or home. It was assumed that we were happy to be in the United States…that to want to be anywhere else was not simply ridiculous…it wasn’t even a consideration.

So for me, the phrases “Welcome Home!” or “Welcome Back!” carry a connotation of selfishness from the perspective of the welcomer…that the welcomer is implying that this is the only place or space to return to after leaving…that the separation hasn’t changed anyone or anything…that everything can now return to the way it used to be.

The second image I see is that of someone in the hospital…someone who has been in a coma or through a surgery, and he or she is waking up. The person waking up is disoriented, might feel a significant amount of discomfort or pain, and may be easily overwhelmed by the bombardment of sounds, lights, and people. Coming back to a conscious state may not be such a fabulous experience for the welcomed individual…even if it is for the welcomer.

Finally, I see soldiers returning home from active duty. These people have seen and experienced things that they may not even be able to verbalize. There’s a good chance they don’t even know how they feel about their experience because they haven’t had a chance or allowed themselves to feel or process much of it in order to survive. Coming “home” or “back” only means that now the real hell begins…facing the inner emotions and memories that will now forever color the way they see the world and their place in it.

“Welcome back!” is not a welcoming statement…except for the person stating it. For the welcomed, it’s a lonely statement…isolating…it includes grief and pain and separation…it means that life as we know it will never be the same again. And, for me, the person receiving that statement, it’s trite and insincere.

Until today. 

Today I met a lovely, and deeply soulful Jewish woman, one of the facilitators at the NVC conference. We sat on a bench in the sun and connected, initially through the class’s content, then through our spirituality, and finally, through our Jewishness. Then she discovers that I converted to Judaism and I expect the inevitable question about why I converted to Judaism and I prepare my standard answer. Instead, she surprises me by asking, “How and when did you know you were Jewish?” I’m stunned to realized that my standard answer has found the appropriate question: When I was four years old, I asked my mother if we were Jewish. When she said no, I burst into tears.

This isn’t a new story for me…crying at the age of four years old…nor is the reaction of other Jews to my story dissimilar from this woman’s. But she does something fundamentally different…she sees me. As in the Avatar form of seeing me. With tears in her eyes, she reaches out with both her arms, gently grasps my arms with her hands and looks at me…her heart opening toward me with gratitude and unconditional love. She looks at me…wordlessly…letting the tears run down her face. “You are a Holocaust Jew!” she whispers with great emotion. My breath hiccups, tears instantly flow from my eyes, my body slumps and surrenders to the safety of being seen and acknowledged for who I am…as she sees my soul and holds me in great love. I nod…incapable of speaking. And then she says the most beautiful two words I have ever heard…words that offer connection…words that offer community…words that offer recognition of where I’ve been and acceptance for where I am now.

Welcome back!

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Marilyn said,

    Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Amazing post. There were so many points and levels at which I related. I’m sharing this on the Communicating Across Boundaries Facebook page. Thank you thank you!

    • Seraphina said,

      Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 at 12:08 pm

      I’m so glad! It was definitely cathartic to write it. Thank you for honoring me by sharing. Much love to you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: