IT'S DARK WHEN I ARRIVE AT THE PENSION where I'll stay while I find a place to live. I speak in halting German to the woman behind the desk. She gives me my room key, and I lug my two overstuffed suitcases up three flights of narrow dimly lit stairs. I call my mom. We connect over 6,000 miles of crackling wire. "Everything is fine," I say. Then I crawl into bed and erupt into sobs.
The next morning, eyes swollen, I smile at the landlady who brings me apricot preserves, sweet butter, and a hard, crusted roll that shatters into a hundred pieces when I break it. Later, I crisscross the city along tree-lined boulevards and down narrow, curved streets, following every housing lead. I visit a student dormitory and try to imagine myself living inside its severe cement walls.
A week passes. Nothing fits.
I'm in Vienna, where a blanket of foreboding gray clouds hangs overhead. I've been eagerly anticipating a year off from college to study piano, but heaviness envelops my heart.
I want to pray, but I can't think clearly. I need help. I call a woman in Vienna I don't know, but I know what she does. She ministers to others through prayer. Mom gave me her name in case I need spiritual support. I pour out my story. The woman listens. "I know you need a place to live," she says. "But let's think about this a little differently for a moment. Let's think of your home not as something that's outside of you, something you need to get. Let's see your home as within you, as your feeling the presence of God always right where you are. You are the image of God. Knowing yourself as God knows you, being what God created you to be—that's what makes you feel at home."
I feel an inner stirring—a longing, a hope—for safety, security, warmth, and peace. A desire to give and receive, to be myself.
I stop house hunting, at least for the moment. Stopping is hard to do. But I want to listen for God's direction. I sit on the edge of my bed and open a book I brought with me by Mary Baker Eddy. I read: "Beholding the infinite tasks of truth, we pause,—wait on God. Then we push onward, until boundless thought walks enraptured, and conception unconfined is winged to reach the divine glory." (Science and Health, p. 323).
My home isn't just a physical structure, but the qualities of home I express in my heart. I take a walk. As I board a city train, an elderly woman struggles to climb the steep stairs before the doors close. I reach out to help her. When she settles into her seat, she insists on giving me a bag of fresh tomatoes from her garden. I'm still tentative about speaking German, but I try to greet the conductor. He smiles.
I spot a notice for a boarder in a flat. Although it isn't what I had in mind, I call for an appointment. I locate Mahlerstrasse, enter an arched courtyard and climb two flights of agesmoothed stone stairs. A woman in a tailored brown dress ushers me into her sitting room where piles of books lie on her table. Portraits of her ancestors cover the walls—she's descended from a royal family. She asks who my great-great-great grandparents were and is astonished when I say my grandparents were immigrants and I don't know!
I meet my new roommate, a woman from Bavaria with sparkling black eyes and a broad smile that takes me in. My landlady speaks to each boarder in our native tongue—German, English, Yugoslav, and French. I pay one schilling to take a bath, and order coal to heat my stove before the winter sets in.
My rented piano arrives. What will it be like to immerse myself in this new culture? I open the window. A crisp fall breeze flicks back the white lace curtain. In the courtyard below, mothers chat in an Austrian lilt. Squeals of children's laughter reverberate up the stone walls and mingle with Beethoven as I begin to play. I am home—home is where God is. Wherever I go, I'm home.