Longing And Belonging

“Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.” I am sitting at one of the uneven booths in the dining hall, talking to a friend, dragging my fork through the dribble of ketchup on my plate. “But I can’t wait to leave.”

Over the past two semesters, I’ve had this conversation plenty of times. “I’m not sure why I’m even here.” “I’m so ready for graduation.” “I just can’t wait to leave, to get out of here. To move on with my life.” “Honestly, I find it hard to believe Houghton will still be here in twenty years.” I sometimes find myself saying the same things.

No wonder we’re all so tired after the past year, with its tumultuous political scene, plenty of controversies closer to home, and a series of social debates that often failed to distinguish between respecting each other’s opinions and acknowledging their humanity. But I think it’s deeper than that. I think it’s because, juvenile as it may sound, none of us truly have homes right now.

I don’t fully belong anymore to my home in Pennsylvania, with its scrappy green fields and roving cows. But I don’t belong to Houghton, and never will, not in the same way that the people who ink 14744 onto their outgoing bill payments,  get their snow tires rotated at a mechanic in Olean, and have novels from the Belfast library on their bedside tables. They are invested in the health and wellbeing of this community in a way that I simply cannot be. Add to this our obsession with “wanderlust” and scorn toward the idea of “settling down,” as if settling down is not what humans have primarily been doing forever, and it’s no wonder that we can’t be happy where we are.

This exhaustion is to be expected, I suppose, with a community that is so fundamentally transitory. The longer I’ve spent here, the more I’ve found myself wondering if you can be a person, in the fullest sense of the word, without having a place. Without the intention to stay somewhere for a while, without the intention to suffer and grow with it, can you ever belong?

The Star is another representative of this transitory culture, and maybe that makes us part of this problem. Every few years the website or the masthead or the novelty columns might change entirely, depending on what the people in charge think is best. Staff turns over every year. Editors-in-chief cycle in and out, and each one brings with them a different “mission statement” about what this newspaper should and shouldn’t be, what it ought and ought not to do.

So I’ve been thinking of these lines from Philip Larkin’s poem “Home Is so Sad”: “It stays as it was left, shaped to the comfort of the last to go, as if to win them back. Instead, bereft of anyone to please, it withers.” Right now we are the “last to go,” and conflicted as I am about the culture at Houghton right now, I don’t want it to wither when we’ve gone. That, to me, is part of what being a Christian is: the conviction to treat every place as if it is your place, because all people are your people. I want to shape this place not only to my comfort, but to the comfort of those who will come later. Next year, let’s try to share this conviction together.

Carina is a majoring in English and communication with a concentration in media arts and visual communication.

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