Over two years ago, my family and I moved across country. After living a lifetime in one city, we found ourselves in a new city and all that comes with that: a new house, new schools, new workplaces, new relationships. The day we began our move, we were each so thrilled by the adventure! The idea of newness was enlivening. It was as if life went from standard definition to high definition.
Our first year in our new home was incredible. The distinct geography was thrilling to discover. Seasonal differences were fascinating to experience for the first time. Meeting interesting people and making new friends was fun! It was quite literally 52 weeks of constant discovery. And it was breathtaking.
Our second year in our new home was difficult. Each of us began to feel the loss of all that had been known so well. Familiar challenges in life no longer had their corresponding familiar comforts. The embrace of a friend who knows your story deeply. The foods that feed the soul as much as the belly. The well-worn scenic walks and drives that provided time for talking or thinking through life’s difficulties were no longer accessible. A community whose prayers and laughter, tears and sweat had shaped your life? Out of reach. We were a large family in a bustling city and yet the word “alone” didn’t quite describe the sense of isolation we began to feel.
We longed for home.
But what is home?
Is “home” defined by a place or people? Is it familiarity or permanence?
It may seem like a petty question to some. In a world with so many grand concerns, am I really going to wax philosophical about the domicile? Yes, I am.
We are increasingly a world of migrants, moving from one place to another to make meaning and, hopefully, a profit. The financial downturn of this last decade brought the question to bear for so many. Limited economic opportunities forced many to return home and others to leave home. However that word is defined—and whether folks wanted to or not—what “home” meant was brought into question. Indeed, houses themselves became commodities that people could not—and still cannot—afford. In such a world, what then is home?
Transitioning into our third year in our new city, things are getting better. A sense of home is slowly coming into focus. But I’ve come to a new appreciation for what home is and what it takes to make a home. Is “home” a place or people? A little of both. But I think it begins with a posture. It’s a choice, a habit.
We live in the most connected era ever in human history. Yet, we are so fragmented, isolated. Creating a sense of home takes work. As much as we crave it, our habits often fight it. I’ve discovered that unless I make space for sharing life—and usually over meals—I will never feel as though I’m home. We can live our lives with others and still not be known by them. It’s a choice to be known, to share our lives. I wish I could say this is easy. Or that it comes more naturally to those who live in the same place all their lives. Neither are true. A sense of home takes effort and risk.
It also takes time. Cultivating a sense of home doesn’t happen overnight. In our fast-paced culture, we tend to be incredibly impatient. We’re also increasingly averse to pain. If it hurts, if it doesn’t work out fast enough, all too often we recoil. Yet, anything that requires effort also requires pain and time.
Too often, home resides only in memories. Certainly, the conception of home from our past shapes what it will be in the future. Nonetheless, we create what home is in the here and now. If you are one of those, like so many others, that have found themselves seeking the meaning of home in a new place or simply some place it’s always been missing, “home” doesn’t just happen on its own. It needs you to make it happen.
I spent a year being a tourist. Another year lamenting the ending of my life’s previous chapter. Now, I’m feeling ready to write the next chapter of life—of cultivating a sense of home for my family, myself and for others. It took me a while, but now I recognize that it will take effort and time, and that it won’t happen on its own. I’m also beginning to see how many others long for home around me and that makes the work all seem worthwhile.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Glyn Lowe Photoworks