I wasn’t prepared for this feeling of awkwardness, for the insecurity not knowing a language would bring. Last time we were here, I was young, too young to be self-conscious or care what people thought of me. Now I care. Now I want to have it all together, to say just the right thing. But of course I can’t. Of course I’ll make mistakes, ask for a table when I mean a bag. No one even expects me to be perfect—except me.
We enter the room filled with all the other newcomers, and I feel even more out of place. Now it’s not just German, it’s Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch. There’s even a Norwegian family. I feel bad, because they can all speak my language, at least a little, and I don’t know anything of theirs. I hate feeling pampered, like I owe something to everyone. Here they all are, bilingual, and I’m here stumbling along with my dankes and entschuldigungs. It’s my pride, I know, and it smears over everything in its putrid black haze.
But as we begin to tour the city, as we all experience things together, laugh about the city’s legends together, I begin to relax. To realize that they don’t have it all together—the Italians especially, they struggle with my language, and that heartens me. We are all new together, and few of us (except the Dutch, who seem to be fluent in everything) speak any German. I feel bonds strengthening between us, small ones because we still cannot really communicate—but then, what is language when you meet each other’s eyes and smile and laugh at what the tour guide says?
Yes, we can do this.
And I begin to realize too the beauty of the differences. The sound of the different languages sing in my ear, these varied tunes blending together into a rich harmony. Look around, look around, I tell myself, as I walk with Italians and Spaniards and French through the cobblestone streets of a German town, at how lucky you are to be alive right now. Who else gets to stand at this intersection of cultures, this gathering of people from all over, united in purpose, laughing as one under the sun?
As we leave the restaurant, the bells begin to ring. 7:00. They toll on and on, some deep fairy tune, constant like the strength of the cathedral’s old stones.
In Kansas, there was a bell tower right near our house, less than a block away. We called it the bell clock. I remember when it broke and stood silent for months on end. I mourned it. It was like the loss of a beloved friend. When they finally fixed it, I couldn’t stop smiling.
And here, now, here it is again. The bells are singing to me. The song of the bell back home mingles with the bells here, and I can almost see it, a trail of gold glory, of divine love, crossing the ocean, from home to home, and that is it:
This is home.
Home is where the heart is, they say. For me, home is where He is, and He is here. He is proving that to me in every garden I pass, in every breath of clear wind, in every delicious chocolate.
The bells ring, and I hear Him sing: I am here. I am with you.