My home town has never really felt like home to me.
Every shop is familiar, each street routine. I could walk it with my eyes closed or detail it out on a map but I wouldn’t call it home. That feeling of pride and belonging so often portrayed at sporting events and concerts where the geographic location of a human seems to determine their moral standards and loyalties, manifested in the shape of a penguin or a giant walking baseball, never swayed me.
When movie and pop stars talk about getting back to their roots, I always wondered where I would go. Maybe I don’t have any roots, floating like moss in a forest that holds me but does not belong to me. There seems to be so much pressure surrounding us to define ourselves. Society (now known as social media) wants to know who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going, preferably in 140 characters or less, and I don’t even know where to call home. What was worse, I didn’t even know what exactly “home” meant.
A good friend gave me a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild and I read the whole thing through ceaseless tears, feeling as though I was reading my own heart’s words. My soul ached to run away and not look back. I believed that her story was the key to what I needed to do: run away, leave this life behind and keep going until it disappeared beyond the horizon.
So I ran.
Well, I booked a flight, waited two months for vacation time from work, reserved a room, packed up a giant suitcase—and then I ran.
London has always held my heart. I spent most of my childhood lost in tales of knights and kings and manners and balls and unlikely love, reading and researching and imagining life in my idealized version of England. So when I needed to escape reality, London seemed the only choice of destination.
Beneath my excitement, my default pessimism was sure that the city could not live up to my expectations. Instead, the city far surpassed everything I’d imagined, never before had I loved a place so much.
I felt alive and free and tiny in the vast sprawling sea of buildings and people and culture. Knowing that no one in the world knew exactly where I was or what I was doing exhilarated me. I was finally living an adventure, immersed in a waking dream. I got lost, literally and figuratively, wound up on unexpected avenues and wandered into book shops I’ll probably never find again.
Amidst the constant chatter and bustle of the city, there was silence. I wrote and thought and walked and sat and let the quiet fill me. But no revelation hit me. I didn’t find a new religion or suddenly realize my purpose in life. What I found was home. It took thousands of miles and seemingly endless searching before I realized that the answer was with me, home was in me all along.
It’s the feeling of comfort that’s all encompassing, the settling relief of familiarity, it’s acceptance and peace and the contentment of being completely and absolutely oneself.
A dwelling is just a place, a combination of brick and mortar, cement or stone, no more or less than a hollow sculpture. A house is where people reside. It is a feeling, a response, a combination of emotions that all add up to home. It doesn’t come from the building in which you dwell, or even another person, or group of people. Home instead is your response to those things. Home can be many places or none.
It’s sitting cozy and quiet in bed with a book, laughing over nothing with a friend, family dinners, or walking hand in hand with the boy I love.
Almost a year ago, I found a new home. When an old friend wanted to meet up, I expected it to be one more event in a series of busy weekends. But instead, the few hours I’d carved out for drinks turned into forever. Business and schedules disappeared and time lost its relevance as a few hours turned into almost an entire weekend. The friendship I’d felt for the boy shifted swiftly into something softer yet stronger. Now, as I unpack all of my belongings for the fifth time in as many years, all I can think is finally, finally I can stop wandering. But the truth is it’s not really about the house. It’s about feeling at home with myself, and finding someone to share that with.
Sometimes distance traveled can be more, or less, than hopping on a plane. Sometimes escape is not the answer. Not everyone needs to go gallivanting around the world to find inner peace. Sometimes the escape we really need is within ourselves. Because home can be wherever you are.
Author: Gabriella Sweezey
Editor: Sarah Kolkka
Photo: Heaton Johnson/Flickr