Last week while I was in Portland, my schedule was a blur of activities. I sat down with a film crew that's working on a series of short clips about generosity (I'll let you know when it's viewable!)
Then I surprised an elementary school whose teacher read them excerpts of The Invisible Girls this past school year.
Then I had an appointment at the travel clinic, where I got my Typhoid vaccine and malaria medicine.
Then I had a farewell party with friends.
Then I spoke at a fundraiser for an orphanage in Congo.
The morning after that, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and caught an early flight to Europe. (I'm spending two days in Amsterdam, then taking the train to Germany, where I'll be the author-in-residence at an art school for a month, and then I'll be in Africa for three months.)
As the plane took off from Portland International Airport and I caught my last glimpse of U.S. soil for four months, I had to fight a rising sense of panic. I'm not afraid to fly; I'm afraid to be leaving the places and people I love so dearly. I'm not prone to homesick, but I've also never been out of the country for four months.
What if I'm miserable? What if I regret leaving for so long? What if something happens to me and I don't make it back? I wondered.
I prayed a quick prayer and reminded myself that I'm doing what God's led me to do, so God will take care of the details.
After the plane took off, I chatted with my seat mate for a while. He was from Curacao, and looked exactly like Aziz Ansari, though he wasn't quite as funny.
And then I fell asleep.
Usually I can't sleep on airplanes. But I was so exhausted after the past few weeks of events and activities, I slept. And slept. And slept.
When I woke up, it was 4 a.m. and we were flying over the Atlantic Ocean, only a few hours' away from landing in Amsterdam.
My stomach was growling. All I'd eaten in the past 24 hours was a small bag of Smart Pop pop corn. I didn't bring any other food onboard with me because I knew the airline would serve us dinner.
Aziz was awake, watching T.V. on the seatback screen.
"Why is it taking them so long to bring us dinner?" I asked him.
He laughed. "They served dinner hours ago," he said. "I nudged you a few times, but you didn't wake up."
"You did!?" I asked. I'm not usually a sound sleeper.
"When you didn't wake up, I asked the flight attendant to save a dinner for you. Just walk back to the galley and find the flight attendant with a blue dress and brown hair -- she'll have it for you."
"Thank you," I said, surprised at the kindness of a stranger.
And suddenly, my anxiety about being so far away from home for so long lessened.
I remembered a story about my brother and his 4-year-old son.
One time they were on a long road trip, and his son kept asking, "Are we home yet? Are we home yet?"
My brother got tired of answering the question, so he said, "Buddy, this whole world is your home, and everyone here loves you."
As I walked to the back of the plane to get the dinner Aziz had asked them to save for me, I smiled at the thought that this whole world is our home. So no matter where I go, no matter how many miles I travel, no matter how long I'm away from American soil, I will belong.
And love will find me.
And the kindness of strangers will revive me.
And while I will miss my friends and family, I don't need to fear homesickness.
Because I'm already home.