Leaving Exile

A few days ago, I was talking on the phone to someone who had moved to a new city, after living a long time in the old one.

“It feels different, somehow, living here. Like, I know I intend to stay here. I want to invest here. I want to own a home here, and maybe raise a family here. [The last place] wasn’t like that at all. It was just a place to live because work had moved me there.”

“Ahhh,” I said.


“Yes. You just described the difference between being an exile and being an immigrant.”

I went on to explain that when you are in exile, you leave one place for another, but there is always the hope you will be able to return. Your heart, if you will, belongs someplace else. Immigrants, however, plan on building a life in, and committing to, the new place. There is, if nothing else, a hope that the new place will be where they will write the rest of their story.

It’s like the difference between renting a home and owning one. The owned home will always be cared for more by its occupant than the rented one because they have committed to it for the long haul. They are not just sleeping in a home but investing in it, caring for it with the hope that it will take care of them, too. The renter does the minimum because it does not make sense to invest in a place you will not be staying or profiting from long-term.

I know this because it was my story, too. When I moved to North Carolina 15 years ago, there was never any intention that I would be gone forever. I knew that one day, I would be back. And 12 years later, I was. While in Raleigh, I was in exile.

It doesn’t mean I didn’t invest in Raleigh – I did. I did good work there, helped a lot of people there, and made good friends – lifelong friends – there. But my heart wasn’t there. My heart was in Mississippi, a place that has nurtured and held my people for 200 years. In the Bible, in the book of Jeremiah, the people in exile are told by God that even though they find themselves far from their homeland, they should plant gardens, build houses, and to work for the good of the land in which they find themselves, because whatever hope they have of prospering will come from that place prospering.

That was my experience in Raleigh. I worked hard there. I built things there. They prospered. I prospered. But it wasn’t home.

You can argue that it’s semantics, but I think it’s more like a mindset, or a framing story.

Because life is different when you intend to stay.