I’ve been thinking about the word “home” lately. Not as in I’m goin’ home, Lord, but as in where or what is home for me now? What does coming “home” mean? At the moment, I spend time in several disparate places, each of which is “home” while I’m there. Maybe not home home in the idealized sense of the word, but home enough, if you get my drift.
We think about home all through our lives, I believe. It’s meaning changes as our experiences do and as our sense of belonging to a place waxes or wanes. I’ve lived in places with houses that provided me with shelter, but they never got under my skin enough to feel attached. they were just places to live. When I walked away, it was as if I’d never lived there. Those spaces bored me but didn’t challenge, welcome or change me. They were not what I consider home, even though I lived there with family.
What do I mean when I say I feel at home? comfort? familiarity? People I know and love? Most definitely. But there’s more. For me, add birdsong on a spring morning. Anytime, anywhere= home. Ditto crickets on a late summer evening. The sound of wind in the trees. The scent of jasmine or lilacs. The crunch of snow. A New England lobster. A small grocery store.
Recently we were in Key West, Florida. The turquoise ocean, sky, sun on my back and the tropical vibe remind me of my years at college in Miami. Although it’s been decades since I’ve spent time in Florida, it took little adjustment to feel “at home.”
The front porch of the house we were in reminded me of the front porch of the 1920’s home we lived in during the 70’s in Athens, Ga. I’ve concluded every house should have a front porch. It’s so damn neighborly. People biked or walked past our house frequently, helping to make me feel connected to my surroundings. Instant gratification.
Knowing people where you are can help to feel as if you belong. Anonymity goes just so far. Initially, it feels liberating, but can quickly lead directly to loneliness, in my experience.
Santa Barbara has become home for over 20 years. I happily call myself a Californian and a Santa Barbarian. There’s a strong sense of place in Santa Barbara that I enjoy. It’s home enough too, meaning that I’m not pining to live elsewhere.Maybe that’s all we get once we leave our childhood home. I realize no place is perfect at least not in the long run!
All pundits make it clear that you can’t go home again. I can no longer return to the home of my parents. I hold those early images within me, always available to access if I feel the desire. Luckily, I have no desire to go back to my old hometown. Once my parents passed away there was no longer a reason to return. Most of my friends moved elsewhere and there was really not much to return to.
If I’m honest with myself, I still have a deep longing to revisit rural parts of New England that were a part of my earlier life. Give me a rambling river or stream. Throw in a perfectly proportioned village built in earlier centuries. Arrange the white colonial clapboard houses around a village green. Call me nostalgic, but there’s no more pleasing look to me anywhere. Maybe I’d find living in such a place stifling. I guess I’ll never know. Now, with advancing age, it’s unlikely that I’ll have a chance to try it out.
New York City is a stopping point for me, but I’ve determined it cannot be home. It’s just too intense on many levels for me to find the level of comfort I need. However, friends and family continue to keep it on my must visit soon list. The saying it’s A great place to visit, but not to live (especially if you’re over 40) holds true for me.
Strangely enough, I can feel deeply at home in Japan. The aesthetics of the ancient country resonate as do the temples and landscapes which are such a vital part of it. Japan has nothing to do with the look of an earlier time in my life, but rather connects to something more mysterious within me, something deeper that I pay attention to, but don’t necessarily understand.
In our era of rampant homelessness and with millions of refugees roaming the earth without a country or a home, I realize just considering the issue of what a “home” is from my vantage point, is a privilege as well as an indulgence. Ask a homeless person or a refugee and their responses and thinking about it will undoubtedly be quite different from mine.
Ultimately, I think coming home means recognizing love. There’s not a moment in my life that has been more wonderful and fulfilling than the photo of me with my newborn granddaughter., witnessing and experiencing the miracle of new life and connection. Truly coming “home.”