An illustration of a woman walking with a roller luggage bag

I am a pilgrim within the home of my heart.

This is a tale of two cities, two lives, two languages, two kingdoms and one heart living in the constant space of homesickness and in-between. I’ve lived most of my life with longing. I never imagined I’d be living in Paris as an American for four years. I never imagined learning a new language and living between two lands I’d call home: France and California.

I never imagined my final semester of my Masters of Fine Arts at La Sorbonne could take me all around the world. My vision and plans for travel in the second semester would take me all over the globe to visit various communities and dig deeper into the question of home in a third world context in Cuba, a metropolitan context of New York, a retreat context at L’abri in Switzerland and Freswick Castle in Scotland and a personal pilgrimage to England.

Five trips, budget airline reservations, one small backpack and a full schedule. My calendar was full of departure and arrival dates and housing plans were in the making. I never imagined global pandemic would break out. I never planned to cancel all international travel.

My calendar was full of departure and arrival dates and housing plans were in the making.

Ironically, or perhaps miraculously, my research on home kept me within a few kilometers of my home in Paris at La Fondation des Etats Unis—an epicenter for international exchange and a slice of America in Paris. In this time of unknown, I am reminded that I can’t make many plans but that I can only prepare daily for the goals and dreams I’ve had all along.

Preparation is defined as the action of process, being prepared for use or consideration. Plans are detailed intentions, decisions and proposals for achieving and doing something. 

With my plans canceled, I decided to stay home and prepare for a different kind of pilgrimage. Sometimes, pilgrimage happens within the walls of one’s own home. Our journeys may not always have to be a physical one, the world sometimes comes to us in our mailbox and via long distance relationships. 

Sometimes, pilgrimage happens within the walls of one’s own home.

Poet Emily Dickinson identified as a hummingbird and traveled through her words as looked out at the world from her window. In her home in Amherst, all she needed was a small writing desk dedicated to make an impact on culture.

I am a pilgrim within the home of my heart. 

There are many ways to travel. Throughout history, humanity has lived and told epic stories and tales like the deliverance of God’s people from Egypt to promised lands, the voyage of Ulysses, the escape of slaves in the underground railroad, troubadours of medieval times, pilgrims descending the Mayflower to America. Every culture and society carries stories of heroes and exiles. Travel and movement connects the nomad, pilgrim, exile, vagabond, troubadour, tourist, pioneer, immigrant, refugee wanderer and global citizen.

Relationships evolve with movement. The intention varies drastically between a pilgrim and tourist, pioneer and nomad. While a tourist travels for vacation and recreation, the pilgrim sets out on a journey and quest that often faces trial and tests.

I have centered my life and art around community and connections, but I was surprised how this period of solitude in quarantine did not feel unfamiliar nor uncomfortable as an artist. The world is within a cocoon of constant change. We can never go back to what was before; therefore, many of us are at a loss during this moment in history because of change. 

We can never go back to what was before; therefore, many of us are at a loss during this moment in history.

I have lived in Paris for more than three years and have recently rediscovered the word “liminality,” which has come to define my experience abroad, especially. It’s used originally by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep to identify the rites of passage in young people during tribal rituals. The word liminal has been adapted to refer to changes that occur during disorientation, struggle and difficulty. 2020 has unfolded into a year of global liminality. 

The tenacity of the human spirit bonds relationships during times of crisis, war and disaster. COVID-19 has become a determining factor for the world to set aside ideology, religion, conflict and difference in joining together toward healing and wholeness. We all stand on common ground. My name Hope, chosen by my parents, inherently comes with daily reminders that things are not yet.

The tenacity of the human spirit bonds relationships during times of crisis, war and disaster.

I never imagined I would spend my spring watching calendar travel notifications pass by and staying within the refuge of my own home. I never imagined that somehow my roots would dig deep while staying put.

The destination is not determined, but the journey is documented in beauty and hope. I didn’t need to go far to learn that we are all homeward bound, pilgrims within our own hearts.

Did you have any trips planned for 2020 that were canceled due to the pandemic? Despite things not going according to plan, has there been any good that has come out of this season?

Illustration via Monica Choi

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  1. I also had planned trips overseas for work and pleasure for the beginning of 2020 and sadly had to cancel most of them. I never could have planned what had happened this year, but I’ve been learning to “go with the wind of the Spirit” and it has been incredibly freeing. I’ve had to move 5 times now this year, learning to stay uprooted, not be too attached to a physical space, and that “the path is your home.” Thank you for writing this, as I also feel grateful that I’m not the only pilgrim of the heart, and how the path is truly our home.

    1. Thank you for sharing Sharon! We are so glad this story resonated with you. Letting go and going with life (even in the unexpected) can be hard but also so valuable.

  2. I had planned a solo month in London to mark my 50th birthday earlier this year. My family is well, our jobs are still secure, and we’ve been able to weather much of what’s happened this year with relative ease, for which I am so, so grateful. But I looked at my full-year calendar on Monday, the hacky little drawing of a plane reminding me that I was supposed to be flying that day, and burst into tears. And then immediately heard that voice in my head saying “Don’t be stupid, you can take the trip another time.”
    We are so conditioned to minimize our pain and disappointment, to say “I’ll be fine.” And I WILL be fine, but maybe a lesson for me to learn is that it’s ok to acknowledge pain, it’s not weak to sit with it for a time, however long that time needs to be.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing April. Acknowledging disappointment and grief (we, as human beings, can grieve any loss or change) is so necessary and healthy. We hope that you are reminded to show yourself grace today. It’s OK to feel the feels. Part of feeling them is what helps you get back to a place of joy and gratitude again. Happy belated birthday! We hope the rest of 2020 is a treat for you and you get to take the trip to London soon.

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