Someone asked me recently, “Do you ever feel homeless?”
After all, it has been almost a year exactly since I last boasted a fixed address. Except for what I carry with me, my belongings hibernate with cedar chips in a faraway collection of boxes and drawers.
My family and friends span the globe from Boston to Shanghai, Detroit to London, Vancouver to Philadelphia, New York, Vermont and more.
My “next steps” hover in the gray haze before decision, and the concept of “putting down roots” feels foreign, and very far away.
Most days, though, I would assuredly reply, “No.”
I have chosen to be nomadic—it is both who I am and who I want to be—I have romanticized it and embodied it in equal measure. Enthusiastically embracing this lifestyle, I have donned the mantle of “wanderer” with (I think) particular ease.
What’s more, I am acutely aware of my good fortune, and deeply grateful for it. This life is a choice, and were I to wish otherwise, having a steady job and extensive, loving support network would allow for a comfortable transition away from it.
So no, most days I do not feel homeless, but rather blessed to lay claim to a multitude of homes—dozens—and the intoxicating freedom to move between them.
But then, yes, once in a while, every so often, when doubt seeps through the cracks, I do.
I sit with it, then, knowing that these moments too are part of the journey. And slowly, slowly I remember.
That which I remember is, I believe, true for anyone, wandering or firmly rooted, alone or surrounded by friends.
I remember what home is.
Home is a thing that fits in a cupboard in my mind—
Faded, well-loved memories, laughter and cups of tea.
Home is the smell of garlic frying in a pan, Nina Simone on the stereo and the ground (any ground) beneath my feet.
It is a spot to lie down, and it is my own voice echoing in my head.
It is the long rectangle of my yoga mat, and the invisible roots beneath it.
It is the absolute conviction that I exist wherever I am.
Home is the soft skin and hard muscles of this body—as transient and lovely as hardwood floors, red brick walls or picket fences.
Home is sinking down into a comfortable chair (any chair).
Home is a key turning in a lock (any key, and any lock).
It is the warmth of a fireplace, a hug or the connectedness of knowing myself welcome.
It is the simplest thing in the world to create.
And maybe the hardest to maintain.
But my home is always within reach.
I can unroll it with one flick.
I can stir it with a spoon.
I can brew it in a just one cup.
Or I can conjure it with a single night’s sleep.
See, home isn’t a thing I carry, or an edifice I build; it is the knowledge in my bones that they belong—
Wherever I go.
Do I feel homeless?
Maybe for a moment, when uncertainty creeps in the back door. But no. For how could I, so long as my heart beats and my breath flows and my words spill and the blank pages stretch out ahead as far as I can see?
I hope you will remember, too:
Home is a place that fits in a cupboard in the mind.
And we never—never—lose that key.
Author: Toby Israel
Photo: Courtesy of Author via Logan Ashcroft // Parée/Flickr