By Phoebe Pohlman
It’s strange the things I can talk myself into if I try hard enough. I will suppress my own true and deep desires to make my life fit a version of something I think I want.
I began questioning my carefully-crafted plans of moving away from Southeast Missouri to begin my teaching career and start grad school at my bi-annual dentist appointment right before I headed back to Kentucky for my last semester of college. Throughout the past 22 years, I’ve somehow managed to make a good deal of life decisions while not being able to talk during my dental exam, as my dentist imparts as much wisdom as the number of jokes he cracks. It was during this dental exam that I shared with him my plans to stay in Kentucky after graduation. He simply shook his head and told me, “I just hate to see all the good ones go.” When I left his office that day, he stood and waved at me as if it was the last time he might ever see me. All it took was this simple and genuine sentiment from a man I’ve seen twice a year since kindergarten to make me realize that for all the talking I’d been doing in my head, I sure didn’t know myself very well.
Another seed of doubt tugging at my plans to stay in Kentucky after graduation had been planted throughout the previous weeks over winter break when I accepted a few substitute teaching positions at the exact school where I spent my adolescent years. While there, I experienced overwhelming welcome and genuine care from the staff. I couldn’t take two steps without someone exclaiming how happy they were to see me or inquiring about updates on my family members. I was even received with welcome and inclusion by staff members I was meeting for the first time in the high school music department. As people who had moved to the school district from other towns, both the choir director and assistant band director only had positive things to say about this place. I left school that day wondering to myself, “If these people love it here, why can’t I?”
At first, I tried to push thoughts of returning home away. The sentiment I perceived from the world was that, as a successful young woman, I was expected to go and become in another place; after college, I was to start fresh with nothing but a job rooting me to a new place. No family, no friends, no community. I initially told myself I went away to college to become “successful,” which meant moving away from my hometown to go on to bigger and better places with more opportunities. The lure of possibility meant leaving my past behind, but as the semester continued, it got more and more difficult to ignore my desire to return home.
A couple of months later, on my last return trip to college, for the first time, I fully understood what I was leaving behind each time I left home. The two miles it takes me to pull off of my road and onto the county road that leads me to the rest of the world is full of the kind of love I’d be searching for any other place I went in the world. There’s the farm that’s been in my family for more than 120 years, the farm my dad grew up on, the church my family has attended for four generations and the creek locals refer to by my family’s last name because so many members of my extended family live near there. I was born into deep roots and love that runs even deeper, people who show me the image and likeness of God every day. I was overcome with the knowledge I no longer wanted to leave this behind to try to find what I already have somewhere else. I wanted to come home.
After finally admitting to myself I wanted to come home, I followed my true desire and applied for a teaching position at the very place I spent my elementary years. Post-interview and a time period of waiting, I was offered the opportunity to teach my first-choice grade level and first-choice subjects at my first-choice school.
Although the world might project the image that opportunities can only be found in far-away places far away from the people we love, the truth is, there are opportunities beyond our deepest desires waiting for us in the places we already know and love. Choosing to return home is an opportunity to exercise the bravery it takes to stay, which is closely related to but very different from the bravery it takes to leave, which is also good and worthy. The bravery it takes to return home means letting go of the idea of complete independence and instead saying yes to what’s always been. Returning home means saying yes to leaning into the people we love and what they have created before us and for us in the places they loved, so we could one day love these places, too. Here now, in our homes, we are trusted with all that was before, all that is now, and all that is to come, so that we may one day pass this place we love so dearly on to the others who might also one day choose to return home.