I’ve fallen in love with a number of places I’ve lived in my life. Some I never realized I loved until I left. Others made an impression that I cannot shake although I never felt love for them at all. Opportunity knocked and curiosity took me to the next spot but there were plenty of tough goodbyes.
While relatively short-lived I felt kind of married to some of those places, committed to those jobs. I looked forward to a time when I could settle down and contribute, to be a part of the evolution of the place, to witness each season, each change. To have a regular seat at the table. To create a home.
There was always something that prevented this. I tried multiple times to make these places home. So many places I wanted to be home. I kept looking for reassurance from a person or a job, seeking chances that would make each place stick, but so many times the signs just didn’t materialize. No matter how I flirted, pushed, sought–none of them became the home I hoped for and I moved on to the next place.
Sometimes when I visit those places now I feel a weird sense of guilt like I should’ve been there witnessing and enduring the things that have happened. Things from my childhood, like the oppressive humidity of the Maryland summer. The fields of high grass and baby bunnies, the deep woods, the ticks and the poison ivy.
In another place it’s the restaurants that seemed like institutions, the tiny inlets in the river with herons and egrets and fiddler crabs. The blue crabs and the beers. The students who grew up into adults, into mothers and professional ballerinas, the schools and companies that closed and re-opened and closed again. The people who are gone, the ones who remain.
With every visit I feel the loss of the time that I’ve missed. And somehow I feel like I’ve been unfaithful. I feel a panic about creating a solution for getting back to these places. I suddenly start creating designs for a whole new life where I can make up for this lost time and get back to whatever I was doing before. It’s absurd.
Even once I chose a partner and started a family, I didn’t feel at home. I felt constantly conflicted, haunted by the old places and friends and the career possibilities that were just out of reach. Intimidated by the newness and the foreignness of it all.
This quarantine time–this time when I could not escape to one of the dreamy old versions of what I thought home might, maybe, one day look like– is the first time I woke up to what home actually is.
It turns out that home isn’t a place. It’s not tied to a job or to a person. I don’t even think home is about the people in your life. Home is inside of you. I was always looking for these outside reassurances, these signs or familiarities or guarantees that would make me feel at home. I think that’s why I didn’t find it. I think for so many of us we’re cut off from this part of ourselves. We’re off looking for four walls to decorate and people to fill the rooms with and we’re neglecting the home that is always with us, inside of us–ourselves.
Now I see that following the opportunities, the passions, the curiosities was making my home more interesting and making my contribution more powerful. I didn’t abandon the places I loved. I don’t need to physically be in those places to honor them. It’s in the remembering–in the stories and the smells and the tastes. It’s all that they have added to who I have become and all the pieces of me that I left behind that helped to shape them in some way. I carry them with me. They are me.
I don’t need to spend my summers sweating in the heat of the DC swamp, or standing in the hot wind of the Maryland fields, gardening and searching for sea glass on the coastlines between Pennsylvania and Virginia, or teaching those little masterpieces of humanity how to pirouette, to know them, to love them, to call them my own.
Home isn’t where the heart is, your heart is your home.