Last Tuesday was my half-birthday. I don't really know why I'm so conscious of half-birthdays, except maybe because my parents were born on each others', and also, when you're a little kid and you're born in the summer and all your friends get to bring cupcakes to school on their birthdays but you're on vacation during yours, it was sometimes a big deal if your teacher let you bring cupcakes to school on your half-birthday instead.
I won't tell you what birthday last Tuesday was six months away from, but I will tell you it ends in a "5." And the first part is not "20."
On my half-birthday, I realised that it was ten years from the day that I moved to London. I could be a British citizen by now. I might finally have started to pick up an accent. I would not have forgotten all the charming slang I adopted. I would regularly interact with more than five people a week who have a largely different ethnic heritage to me. I might even be married to a Brit by now. (Or a Czech, or a Persian, or a Kenyan, or a Ghanaian, or a Turk.) Nah . . . probably not.
Sometimes I wish all those things were true, but there was this time in 2002 when it seemed like God was yanking me out of there by the hair, and I was kicking and screaming as usual, but I knew He was right. I still haven't figured out why, but I still feel He was right--and that for once in my life I actually heard Him properly. The last time I visited East London, instead of its feeling like home, the way it had the visit before that, it felt like a place I had never been before but knew exactly what to expect from. And I knew that that place was not where I was meant to be anymore, even though it had been.
But it really, really had been. I've done a lot of growing since I left London, but I still feel that London was where I really and first grew up. It was where I found my feet and where I learned to do things for myself and where I began to learn to love people. (I'm still learning that, I think.) I lived in my house with the yellow door, and I ate curry more than anything else, and I drank tea with refugees and walked around the sketchy parts of the city (i.e. my neighbourhood) ostensibly by myself and at midnight. I found out that I wasn't going to Hell (or even going to get drunk) if I drank wine within reason with the Eastern European au pairs. I found out that I wasn't going to go looney if I wept and prayed and worshipped with people who spoke in tongues. (And that I still belong to Jesus even though I don't speak in tongues.) I loved London and its people there.
I guess I still do.