As a self-professed wordie, I can easily get caught up in the true meanings of these craftily combined letters we call “words.” What is a word, besides noises and symbols that represent something to us? How do we define the words we use? What gives a word significance, and how does that significance differ from person to person?
One such word that I frequently find myself questioning is home. One of the most commonly asked questions I get on my travels and in life is: Where are you from? The answer to that seemingly simple question varies depending on the context, but is usually answered by either, “The United States” or more specifically, “Massachusetts.” But having just recently visited my dear “home” in the Bay State, I’m feeling even more torn than usual about the truthfulness of it all. Sure, it’s where I lived for the longest span of time, from toddlerhood through high school, but I haven’t actually lived there for nearly a decade. Also, the friends I grew up with have all moved on to different corners of the country. To complicate matters more, my parents are selling their house; soon I won’t even have that four-walled structure to call home. So what is “home?” Is it a place, a social circle or a feeling?
It’s true that the kind of kindred feelings I have towards my hometown, the street I grew up on, woods I explored as a child and all of the key landmarks that made an imprint on my adolescent mind still stand. The difference is that the person who first interpreted and registered those surroundings no longer exists. She is a shadow of the past, a whisper with limited understanding and awareness of both herself and the world at large.
The inevitable change in ones level of maturity does change the meaning of a place, for better or worse. I’ve grappled with this simple life truth many times in many contexts, learning that instead of resisting this shift in perspective, it’s much more helpful to embrace or enjoy it if possible. Those memories stand as pillars from the past. With a whole wide world to explore, you can choose any part of it to be yours…to call home.
When does a place cross over from being a place, an impartial locale, to holding even a twinge of that familiarity that we associate with home? In my experience, there are certain requirements, specific qualities that distinguish a place as much more home-like than any other. All of these qualities boil down to one thing: considering yourself a local.
When I am “local,” I more or less know the roads, the landmarks, the hotspots. I have my favorite places to walk, shop, get coffee and buy fresh produce. It means walking the same streets and frequenting the same stores enough to recognize faces and even greet the same people day in and out. “Home” also means having a social life, either from making new friends or by sharing the place with someone you bring along. Sharing a space creates a stronger bond than could ever be made through the physicality of the place alone. All of this morphs into a feeling of oneness. The hardest parts of moving from home to another is temporarily forfeiting this oneness; being in emotional limbo-land. This is because, no matter where you go from there, you’ve create new bonds. Bonds that aren’t broken with distance. You are leaving behind a part of your heart that’s forever intertwined in theirs. You realize, that even if you went back – just like in the case of your childhood home – it would never be the same.
So, why pain yourself in uprooting from one place and uncomfortably settling down in another, knowing you’ll likely do it all over again? Because there’s something invaluable in that process. The challenge. The thrill. The fun is the calling…the purpose of it all. Making bonds that cement you like family, stretch your faith in humanity and connect you intimately with people who you would’ve otherwise never known, it’s all too beautiful to pass up.