… because home is not a place.
After over a year of living a life on the road which seems to be mostly lived in pursuit of the next goal, checkpoint, or idea towards the advancement of the tenets to which I devote my service to the world, it seems like an incredibly truistic and potentially cliche thing to say, but my arrival at this conclusion is the product of a great deal of (admittedly belated) growing up.
A life lived for over a year more often than not out of a suitcase (or in a mental and physical state of planning and preparing to pack that suitcase) is both better and worse than it sounds: its glamour is lost within the first ten days when you realize that having a dependable place to do laundry is convenient and that some hotels are not as they purport to be online and by phone. These are freeing experiences, but imprisoning ones as well in that big questions always abound during times of transition and travel — “home” becomes not an identifiable location, but an experience. I am grateful for each of the challenging experiences I have undertaken to date and consider myself incredibly fortunate for my ability to do so.
Before I left for Glasgow, I visited my hometown exactly twice. The childhood home my parents love and care for so fastidiously stands stoically, statically as the stronghold of love and family it always has been… but eventually, something changed.When I was a child, our house felt like a fortress — impenetrable to all evil, to all danger, to all harm, and to all reality. It was the place I knew as “home”, and was an indisputable fact in my mind that no other place could ever, or would ever compare in any capacity. The spirit of the house moved around me wherever I would walk — the idiosyncratic qualities of the tiny, restored carriage house conversion following me from room to room, alive with the spirit of love, bright, warm sunshine, my mother’s lively and lovely plants, and the family which had lit my life in so many ways for over twenty years.
During my year in California, my visits home would feel less like entering a fortress — it became an inevitable reality that the house was neither impervious to damage nor to change. Its sacredness did not change in my mind, nor in my activity or conduct within it. The value I placed upon it did not change due to my new circumstance: it was still the most precious icon of good I knew. My parents had given it no less care than usual — the opposite, in fact, in my absence, the house seemed to bloom in many ways. The community around it had not changed either, rather, it had strengthened. Things were bright and beautiful at the hands of my parents, and as my mother’s gardens exploded with color and life, my father’s copper weathervanes stood as always, monuments along garden paths decorating artisan stone walls. It had never been more genuinely idyllic in my eyes and heart, and was as beautiful in every regard as it had always been for all of its flaws. But time had changed me somehow: this was now in some ways only a place in that it clearly would have naught but a shell without those within it(or the memories of them)… but still was heaven.
Every element of our house place which had once served as such a fortress of security became steadily more an abstraction: a ghost which trailed me from room to room like Peter Pan’s lively shadow, just as it always had. As I grew into an adult over my year of life in California, I felt the spirit of the house let go, breathe out and into me, and find peace in the new reality of mine, as if it knew that it no longer held the responsibility of serving as the defensive citadel where I could quell my insecurities by hiding myself away from the world and from my responsibilities as a child buries her face in her father’s coat. Now, walking the same floor plan feels to hold, while bittersweet due to my usually-short stays there, a changed level of peace.
The house comes alive with sparks of light and flickers of love which refract upon the walls, contingent upon entry of the people who surround it — my parents, neighbors, close friends, pets, and family friends. Each of them and all reminders of their presence therein provide the inescapability of truth, that their presence was all along what truly made our house ‘home’. The cemented realization of this both caused my realization of the fact that there is truth to the phrase “you can’t go home“… but that, contrary to another popular belief, you indeed can take it with you in some ways.
The love of the people who make that house a home, who make that state and region home to me still and forever is transported with me everywhere I go: I have only to reach for a telephone or hold in my hands a photograph, hear a voice on a message, or glance at a gifted trinket of often nominal value to remember that their presence is something which I have invited into my life and which has returned my emotional investment ten fold.
The broken compass my father gave me as a souvenir from North Carolina “so I would always know which way to go”, the gold band I wear always on my right middle finger which is the twin of my mother’s, the note on the back of a picture frame from a lover, the seashell your best friend brought back from Bangladesh for you when you were fifteen, the Bob Dylan CD your other best friend gave you in high school, the book your wonderful neighbor whose presence is more like that of a grandfather than a neighbor gave you just prior to your departure, the writer’s magazines given you by a favorite mentor and professor, the text message from another mentor and professor to whom you owe so much, the stack of letters from my late grandmother, the heirloom bible from my great-grandmother. All of their love, by my invitation of these reminders into my life as both tangible and intangible elements of my life, holds the power and the capacity to make any place — or any suitcase — home.
I have been blessed with incredibly fierce, lovable, empathetic, intelligent, and kind people as moderators to the difficulties of life, and the reminders of them are too many to list. Not all are tangible, but all are equal, and all represent the constant reminder of the fact that human kindness, and the resulting strength of human community, can cultivate a sense of family which strengthens the individual by granting the ability to make each and every place home as these reminders are carried symbolically in the house of the soul, lining its walls with memories and decorating front doors with welcoming, healing symbols.These memories represent the faith and kindness which is essential in defining the not-so-sad reality that “you can’t go home again” — because travel, by this experience of mine, thus grants the ability to realize that home is no longer a place.
One day when visiting your hometown, you will eventually run into someone — a character from a life you lived and left who will look upon you with kind, familiar blue eyes outside of a bar after a chance meeting, you initially not recognizing them after so many years have passed. You will chat for a few moments, allude to your new life delicately and with great reverence for the past one, and they theirs, you will briefly cover the requisite polite and friendly bases, and realize that with each interaction, you arrive closer to a sense of peace with the past of your hometown, and thereby, the future of ‘home’. They will not mention the pain, they will not introduce the mention of the gaping hole left by other characters which you have since reinforced and filled with love ever stronger. They will hug you, you will say farewell, and their scent will remind you of things you could never have remembered otherwise; they will shake the hand of the person you now walk the world with as if to ensure your safety and happiness, and you will leave the interaction with the sense that that life you lived and left has at least arrived at its final chapter. You will return home and shower off their scent with a degree of unwillingness, wishing the best for them, for their family, and for the characters within that life you loved and lost… and those who lost you. But critically, due to these travels and the changed definition of ‘home’, you will take the positives with you.
As I sit in yet another hotel room on a record streak in the throws of searching wildly for a flat which takes cats (something which is proving the ultimate test of my patience and conviction to my new life here), my suitcase open and my life littered across two single beds, I realize that these potentially-jading experiences have instead strengthened me and likely do to many others who are blessed with the presence of such beautiful individuals — and those who possess the ability to recognize the good in all.
And even on those rainy days: the windy days, the cold days, those harbingers of a cold fall and winter to come, the cloisters offer comfort, the shop owners offer their smiling faces as an unspoken addition to the service they provide, and I find certainly that again my community is growing. My heart, thereby, grows as well, and I make room for more love to accommodate the influx of support and to give as much of it back as is possible to the beautiful community here.