Accepting Where I’m From

By: Will O’Brien, Social Media Intern 2015

I have spent the last three years of my life going new places, meeting new people, and trying new things, but I have always had a benchmark. The control in my life experiment is always my family and my hometown. However, simply saying “St. Louis” when people asked me where I am from never seemed sufficient. I felt it wasn’t the complete picture of my background that everyone thought it was and most people from the Northeast needed me to pull out a map to show them where exactly that “small southern town” was.

The effort to truly accept my hometown, which has been particularly difficult with the media coverage we have been getting over the course of the past year, has not been easy. However, this past week I made a breakthrough. My sister sent me an exercise from one of her classes for graduate school. It was an adult Mad-Libs of sorts to the form on George Ella Lyon’s Poem “Where I’m From.” My sister and I have not yet had the opportunity to sit down and compare notes, but taking 15 minutes out of my day to reflect and accept my roots was refreshing. I was also very intrigued when an article on Lyon’s passing mentioned a traditional religious upbringing. Both my liberal Protestant and Roman Catholic upbringings still have strong influences on my worldview that I am constantly sorting out and accepting for myself.

Below are Lyon’s original poem, a fill in the blank style template, and my personal variation on his theme. They have helped me find some acceptance of my roots, and I hope they help you do the same.

Where I’m From

By: George Ella Lyon

I am from clothespins,
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening,
it tasted like beets.)
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own.

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses,
from Imogene and Alafair.
I’m from the know-it-alls
and the pass-it-ons,
from Perk up! and Pipe down!
I’m from He restoreth my soul
with a cottonball lamb
and ten verses I can say myself.

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch,
fried corn and strong coffee.
From the finger my grandfather lost
to the auger,
the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures,
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams.
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Where I’m From

(template)

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item),

from _______ (product name) and _______.
I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).
I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item),

the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)
I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait),

from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).
I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).
From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).
I am from (representation of religion or lack of it). Further description.
I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).
From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).
I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

Where I’m From

By:Will O’Brien

I am from desserts,
from Jif and Smucker’s.
I am from the odd stair on the porch.
(White, new,
made by hand.)
I am from the dead grass
the Old Oak
whose ancient roots I remember
as if they still showed through the sidewalk.

I’m from meat and potatoes,
from Blue Stone and Trout Lodge.
I’m from the ‘stop smacking’
and the ‘use your lips,‘
from ‘don’t yell!’ and ‘bring it here!‘
I’m from Webster
with a St. Joe’s tinge

and trespasses, and sins, and debts.

I’m from Metuchen and Berea,
burnt chicken and black coffee.
From the thumb my uncle lost
at the factory,
the burn on my father’s hand.

In my basement was a Build-A-Bear box
spilling old pictures,
a mess of 90’s outfits
Each accompanying a story.
I am the pictures–
the stories —
the memories.

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The Choice of Leaving Syria

Today’s post comes from Shaza Askar, a young Syrian woman. Shaza’s brave words shed a new light on the theme of choices. Above all, Shaza’s post gives us a glimpse into the reality of war, and we here at Searching Sophia’s Pockets are exceedingly glad she is able and willing to share her story.  

my room Homs

“A part of me is still there…” says Shaza of her room in Homs, Syria

From the outside, Syria looks like Armageddon. It just looks like full-on combat around every corner, but war-zones are never what they appear from the outside. There are always pockets of calm and neighborhoods where life goes on.

Around the end of the year 2011, I chose to move to the capital city of Damascus to pursue a Master’s degree there. You can never guess that life was almost normal in the neighborhoods inside Damascus. However, in the distance you could always hear artillery rounds landing, but it seemed like there were areas and pockets that were nearly calm except for some mortars and Grad Rockets falling every now and then, in addition to explosions taking place once in two or three weeks.

Despite choosing to move somewhere safer, I almost lost my sister in an explosion in summer 2013. More than twenty people were burned to death while they were riding a bus after it passed over planted explosives. People around the explosion were injured too. My sister was one of those injured by the explosion, of course but thankfully she survived it. The violence continued to escalate. Battles were surrounding the capital city; some of them even took place within the neighborhoods of Damascus. We had to make a choice.

Living in a situation like that, fleeing the country was the only choice for me. After the choice of leaving Syria was made, I, along with my sister, began the long and exhausting process of preparations. After a few months of working on our papers in such a complicated situation, and having to fly to Jordan or Lebanon whenever we had an appointment with the German Embassy, risking our lives with snipers who were readily placed on the way to the airport, my sister and I were finally accepted to study at German universities that were exceptionally supportive to us with regard to our special case.  I can’t be thankful enough for every person that showed real compassion during that time because it meant a lot.

Escaping Syria was my choice, but what of the people who are still there without the option to leave? What is their choice?

Loose Thread: Home

Loose Threads are conversation starters for this community. This week let’s talk about home.

What does “home” mean to you?

Jenni: “Home, let me go home, home is wherever I’m with you…” Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, anyone? Great song if you haven’t heard it.

Home is a hard concept, especially when you travel. I just moved to my new “home”, and it’s not home yet. I don’t know when the switch happens, but I’ve seen it before. You get a piece the first time you clean, and another when you invite someone over and there’s laughter or deep conversation involved. There are the days you are bone tired and can’t wait to get back to your bed, no matter how crappy it is, and that makes it a little more like home too. I used to miss home, and then became frustrated because I couldn’t figure out what city, or country for that matter, was home anymore. And while I haven’t totally figured it out yet, I think home right now means contentment. Knowing you are where you are supposed to be, accepting it, embracing it. It doesn’t matter if you can count five stars from your backyard or 500- if you can look up at the sky and feel content, then I think you have found at least a piece of home.

Autumn: Home is a truth each of us writes in childhood; some write their truth from fact and others write their truth from fiction. This distinction is the only irrevocable human divide.