I have a tattoo.
Most people don’t know that, given that it’s a pretty a recent addition (keep your pants on, I didn’t get it in rural India).
It’s the number three, inked in brown, placed on the underside of my left upper arm, intentionally upside down. When people ask, I usually give a simple explanation—it stands for one of my favorite Buddhist sayings, “In the end, only three things matter: how much you love, how gently you live, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” That’s usually enough vulnerability.
But there are other nuances. I picked the color to mirror henna—not to fool my poor mother—but for the impact that India has made and continues to make on me. I picked the placement and position for tennis—it’s right side up and visible when I serve. The number three also represents the three other people who are, by blood, my nuclear family.
For many reasons, my family unraveled by the time I turned sixteen.
I moved out of my parents’ homes and, as a result, lost many family ties. It felt like exile and emotional death wrapped in one. Soon after, I found myself temporarily homeless in a new state. I spent a summer slinking around to avoid detection, living in places I shouldn’t have been.
Despite the love of countless mentors, friends and my newly-defined family, that feeling of homelessness and loss has followed me to every new state and country. Particularly when I meet new people, it catches in the back of my throat like an unspoken confession: damaged.
This imaginary deficiency used to mute me. But I used to take some measure of solace in my little Buddhist saying, though—perhaps, in my case, those abstract ideas of home and family, that foreign sentiment of sincere belonging, were just things I needed to learn to gracefully let go.
However, being immersed in the holistically nurturing, growth-minded culture of my NGO, SEEKHO, gave me an “aha!” moment that has amended that view.
I’ve realized that we often conceptualize home all wrong. Home and belonging are processes, skills that need to be honed. I naively expected that I would adjust to rural India immediately, but my feeling comfortable here, my perception of this place as a home was a process that took over a month.
After weeks of steady effort and building my patience, though, I woke up one day, greeted my coworkers, shimmied out of my mosquito net, waded through a crowd of thirty young students screaming “Good marning, madam,” went to the squat toilet, took a bucket shower, sat down to eat porridge in the already blazing sun—and didn’t think twice about it. It was comfortable.
It had become home.
Feeling at home here has been a process—it is everywhere. But we often don’t give people or places enough trust, effort, or time to let the process come to fruition.
Perfect pitch comes naturally to some people. To others, it requires diligent work to cultivate a trained ear. For me, that is how home is. Hearing the front door closing, particular birds chirping and specific voices laughing and naming that tone “home,” sharp or flat—that is a skill which requires hard work.
That’s where many of us often fall short. We regard home as a fixed entity, like a shoe.
We try it on, then discard it bitterly, broken-heartedly when, at first test, our toes feel cramped. But home is a process. It requires dedication, effort, patience, and the growth-mindset-inspired confidence that this skill can improve over time.
It is not shameful that that no place or people fit perfectly immediately. I feared that my own deficiency prevented me from immediately belonging. I was certain that everyone else came fitting—that everyone else had a puzzle they seamlessly snapped into. In retrospect, though, that’s pitifully reductive of the dynamism of people and places.
We’re all fluid, evolving works-in-progress., full of possibilities. Home is a skill, not a shoe or a puzzle. There are people and places to be called home—after effort.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: journeyswithasimplegirl, Flickr Creative Commons