Almost a year ago, I moved halfway across the country. This weekend, I’m back in Milwaukee, the city I’ve lived most of my life in and around. Even after being away, its streets and rhythm are completely familiar to me. My car practically drives itself and hardly anything has changed except the position of the highway construction. (And even that hasn’t changed much.)
It’s all easy and natural, but it doesn’t feel like home any more.
But here’s the thing… I’m starting to suspect that nowhere really is home. Or, everywhere is home. Or, maybe, anywhere can be home.
If you let it.
Some of us think of a building as home, but buildings come and go. They get remodeled, they get upgraded, they burn down. They may be a container for the idea of home, but they aren’t the thing itself.
A city or town or plot of land may feel like home. It can be the backdrop for the major milestones of our life, where we raise our kids, go to work, march in the parades. They are the stage on which our lives play out, but they aren’t really home.
If you are fortunate enough to get to travel, you may have the rare and remarkable experience of driving down a street or walking along a sidewalk or river and feeling an immediate and complete sense of rightness. It feels familiar even if you’ve never been there. It feels like home – or a place that could easily be home if you let it.
And of course there are people who feel like home. The smell of a beloved’s shampoo, the feeling of your mother’s hug, the high school friendships that are as comfortable and well-worn as an old pair of sneakers.
The longer I live and the more experiences I have, the more I begin to think that home is a feeling, and a feeling that is largely separate from circumstances. While your childhood house may smell like home, while the wind through the trees when you sit on the end of the pier may sound like home, while a fresh peach will always bring you back to summer you lived in the house next to the orchard, all of this is just a feeling.
And you can feel at home any time, any place. If you really want to.
Home is when you allow yourself to feel like you belong. Home is wherever you find the exact right blend of novelty and safety to suit your taste for both. It is the place where you decide to relax and let your guard down, if only for long enough to take a shower and get a good night’s sleep.
Milwaukee isn’t home. Neither is Portland or Land O’Lakes or Kenosha or Washington DC or Hermannrode. They are all places I’ve lived, but home is a more elusive thing. For me it has to do with certain foods, the smell of horses and hay, the sound of a Packer game on the TV on a Sunday afternoon. It’s not about the zip code I find myself in, but about being present wherever I find myself.
Home is a decision and a practice as much as it’s a place. No one can create it for you, and no one can take it away.
So, how does it feel to be home?
Picture taken by me with an iPhone.
From a place that felt like home for quite a while.