I flew direct from Auckland to Houston – an overnight flight that made a nonstop 13-hour journey relatively bearable. As I braced my body for the jolty touchdown onto American soil, I also braced my being for reverse culture shock. I didn’t know how I would feel about the materialism of Mt. Pleasant, or the general culture of the Bible Belt. I was giddy, but slightly scared, as my in-flight journal entry attests:
My chest feels light and twisted, because as much as America is home, I’m afraid of waffling between two cultures and not really having a place. It has been a whole year, and I’m nervous about all the differences in my outlook and experiences that up to this point I was not aware of, or had not acknowledged.
I know the Christmas season isn’t exactly “real life.” Everyone is home for the holidays and has more time to socialize. But so far, that anticipated culture shock just hasn’t happened. It’s been nice to have a few more creature comforts and hang out with stellar people, who also happen to be Christians. I am far too happy to be back in a place that I know so well to be surprised by discrepancies in lifestyle or values.
The motto at Camp Timberline, where I worked the summer of 2015, is “Be Known, Be Loved.” That phrase sits well with me, because I think it speaks to the condition of the human heart — every person’s desire, and mine, certainly, to have others accept who I am and care for me deeply, regardless of the mess I occasionally make of myself. That yearning, of course, directly reflects the Gospel story too, our desire to be sought after by a God who knows our ish and loves us unconditionally anyway. There is no place where I feel more known, more loved – and where I feel most able to know and love others – than home. And there is no place quite like the Lowcountry.
It is so good to be back in Charleston. I checked off most of the things I couldn’t wait to do back in the U.S. during the first few days home, because they were such uneventful, everyday activities. Mama invited my closest friends over the night I got in. I shopped at Trader Joe’s and ate a healthy dinner with my family. I went to St. Andrews and snuggled with my sister Rosa Marie and my dog Agnes. I spent the night at Sugah Cain and walked on the Ravenel bridge and biked over to Sullivan’s Island. After a year of so much adventure and change, I reached a saturation point where all I really wanted was familiarity.
Despite my mundane homecoming bucket list, this city itself is distinctly special. After an errand on King Street, I spontaneously spent a temperate evening window shopping and strolling along the battery downtown. New Zealand may be the best country in the world, but I agree with Condé Naste Traveler — Charleston is still the number one city. As I walked along the bluestone sidewalk, I rejoiced in the Holy City. “What a place!” I thought. “How lucky I am to be from here! WHY would anyone want to live anywhere else? No wonder we’ve got so many damn Yankees moving down!” Even with stunning sunsets over the harbor, like the one I took in that evening, ironically, I continue to oscillate daily about whether I actually want to live here or in Greenville. My parents, best friends, church community, and more likely job prospects – what I know – are here; my siblings, good friends, the mountains, and the prospect of the unknown are in the upstate. And thus, I don’t know.
It is also fun to be a Compton, back on my Mt Pleasant turf. I see people I know all the time, and I love it. A high school classmate taught my gym class the other day, and I ran into another guy at Lizzy’s wedding reception that I haven’t seen since eighth grade. (We were 14 then. Now we’re 24. Getting old is weird.) I’m a relatively outgoing, busy person on my own. As a family though, we’re a hex-fecta of socialites. I am not kidding – there has been one night in the nineteen days I have been home that I haven’t had some evening gathering to go to, and that night my mom specifically requested that we be home. Turns out my sister was getting engaged*, so that turned into a pretty momentous night too. When everyone is home, the house returns to being a busy revolving door. People come and go, dropping by to join in on RoRie’s crafts or Cain’s ping-pong games; Mama’s cooking or a drink with Hoffa. I wouldn’t mind if things slowed down a little bit, but, ‘tis the season, and the Compton way.
With all the gatherings, I’ve realized that I haven’t actually missed the mountains very much (yet). I capitalized on the outdoors in New Zealand because of my circumstances – friendships were only beginning to form, and NZ nature is especially incredible. When I was there, I wondered what I had ever done before, without the mountains being such an integral part of my life. Answer: I have amazing soul friends, and I hung out with them a lot. Ultimately, as I have concluded many times before, people trump the best of places, and I’ve got the best of people.
For New Year’s Eve, my main Charleston crew rang in 2017 at our friend’s plantation**. Around the fire, I exclaimed, “I just love it, y’all! Being home and being with you, saying y’all and shucking oysters and nights under the live oaks. There’s nothing finer.” It’s a satisfying feeling to be so content, to feel so right, to return to a place with which, though not identical to the way I left it, I am so intimately familiar.
I am from the South, and though my adventurous spirit needs to stretch beyond the borders of marshland and kayak creeks, my soul belongs in Carolina. As one Christian school’s “Oh what fun”-themed Christmas board read at the Holiday Festival of Lights, “Oh what fun it is to be raised on sweet tea ‘n Jesus.” Amen! The South is a distinct place, and it is not for everyone. But it is my place, and it is for me. I feel like a puzzle piece that has finally been put back in its missing space – the perfect fit, making the whole more complete. It’s a cheesy analogy, but I haven’t been able to think of a more original one.
My dear friend Maddy warned me that once everyone returns to routine, this time at home will still be good, but may prove difficult and disconcerting too. She is probably right, and I am sure I will share those challenges on the ol’ blog as I face them. I’ve never had a season quite so relaxed and random as the one ahead – comprised of substitute teaching, babysitting, working for my parents, more adventures both domestic and abroad, and the official teaching job hunt. I certainly never expected to be a young adult and so stoked about living in my childhood home; perhaps I won’t be in half a year’s time. Amidst the uncertainty of any given day, though, there will be more stability than I’ve had in years, and for that, I’m grateful. Right now, I’ll continue to bask in the honeymoon phase of simply being back in the place I love, with the ones I love best.
*Eeeep, Georgia and Duncan are engaged! We’re all very excited for them, and I could not imagine a more awesome new brother. You may think they’re young (at 22, they are) or that the engagement is fast (wedding is set for June 3!), but I am for them. Duncan listens to and trusts the Lord, and he is a grounded, salt-of-the-earth fella. You also didn’t live in New Zealand for a semester with a sister who was lovesick and set on a ring by spring. Bring on the wedding festivities!
**We are all very fortunate for and appreciative of the resources our families have. It’s been a joke among us since high school – “Oh, we’re just going to go hang out at our friends’ plantations this weekend.” We know that’s not normal, but we do love that it’s our normal.