A Sea of Black Hair: The Comfort of Home
It’s like clockwork. I know that a major holiday is about to embark when “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas” airs on television. As a child and even now, one particular Peanuts character made an impression upon me: Linus Van Pelt. He’s Lucy’s little brother and Charlie Brown’s best friend. Light years ahead of his peers, he’s the brown-haired second baseman, philosopher, theologian, and visionary who enlighten others with his intellect. Of course, he’s most famous for his inseparable bond with his blue blanket. As years passed, I realized that his blanket represents something we could all relate to. We seek things that console us.
“It’s wrapping ourselves in our favorite blanket.”
Comfort is remarkable. It’s found in the simplest and sometimes most unexpected things. It’s indulging in a warm cup of cocoa with melted marshmallows floating atop. It’s feeling the warm sunshine beaming on our face. It’s hearing a particular song and feeling our eyes close tightly as tears stroll down our face. It’s wrapping ourselves in our favorite blanket.
We tend to seek solace in familiar things or events that we remember, but what about things we can’t recall? Have you ever visited a place you’ve never been, but instantly connected to? Have you ever met a complete stranger, but felt as if you’ve known them your entire life? Have you ever picked up a random object that made you smile, as an event immediately flashes back from your memory?
I experienced all of these unique types of comfort due to one life-changing decision: visiting Việt Nam. For the first time since my family and had I fled to the U.S. from the atrocities of the Việt Nam War, I went home. Though it occurred years ago, I vividly recall that day. After the plane landed in Sài Gòn, I maneuvered through Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport and finally found my way outside where I was welcomed by my long-lost relatives. Relatives that I haven’t seen since I was a toddler.
It was complete mayhem at the arrival area of the airport. Swarms of people were eagerly anticipating the appearance of loved ones. An assortment of signs with first and last names swayed like windy tree branches in the air. Arms excitedly waved back and forth to catch the attention of those arriving. Yet, despite the pandemonium, something amazing happened. A tidal wave of awareness struck me. The instant my feet hit the ground; I felt an overwhelming sense of family and familiarity.
“The sea of black hair was comforting to me.”
Was it because it’s my birthplace? Was it due to the fact that it’s the birthplace of my parents, my grandparents, and great grandparents? What I knew to be true is that I was acutely conscious that everyone around me looked and spoke like me. I’ve never met these strangers; but their presence was unexpectedly familiar and comforting. It’s the kind of comfort of savoring a home-cooked meal or being wrapped in a warm blanket on a frosty night. The sea of black hair was comforting to me.
It wasn’t one particular thing about being home that was consoling. It was of a combination of things. It was walking through the local markets and sidewalk cafés and being encircled by the bustling commotion of locals. It was the buzzing of scooter engines zipping in the streets. It was the street food vendors lining street corners with aromas of freshly grilled meats percolating in the air. It was gazing into the bustling town square and observing the residents dashing from point A to B. It was floating effortless by boat on the Mê Kông River and admiring its silence. It was observing the locals who remind me of my mother, my father, grandmothers, and grandfathers.
Comfort is a supernatural force. It appears in familiar and unfamiliar things. It makes us laugh, cry, remember, reflect, and appreciate. It manifests itself in people, places, scents, and items to remind us of a treasured time or person. It connects us to a broader space, much larger than ourselves.
“Wow, you’re part of something a lot bigger.”
Years later, I watched ABC News Chief Political Correspondent George Stephanopoulos describe his first visit to Greece on an episode of Finding Your Roots, “I especially remember getting off the train, and seeing like thirty people greet us at the train, and they all looked like us. And that’s the first time you get that feeling of, “Wow, you’re part of something a lot bigger.”
I smiled. That’s exactly how I felt. That sense of belonging and identity. That sense of being swaddled in a blue security blanket. That sense of being home.