What comes to mind when you think of the word home?
Is it a place? The city where you were born? The house where you grew up? Or is it simply the dwelling where you keep your stuff?
Is it people or animals? Your family, loved ones, or even pets?
Or is it something even less tangible? Is it a sense of refuge and safety? Or, perhaps, a feeling of love or belonging?
As Americans, home (in the broadest sense) is the USA, and for eight weeks this summer we experienced a large dose of down-home comfort across 12 states and 14 separate residences. From physical luxuries such as big beds, reliable showers and home-cooked meals, to more abstract pleasures such as the following sampling of good times with friends and family, it was a pretty kick-ass stretch for us.
- Visiting a cat café with LeAnn, Simone & Annika (OR)
- Hiking Ten Falls trail with Liz & Hank (OR)
- Sitting around the breakfast table and talking dinosaurs with Kathy, Cale & Jackson (MN)
- Backyard Bocce & BBQ with Chelsea & Andy (MN)
- Road trip to Winnipeg with Mom & Dad (ND/MB)
- Playing the least secretive yet most hilarious games of Clue with Cassie, Phil, Cam & Hunter (MN)
- Picnic at Minnehaha Falls with Sue, Jimmy, Alex & Julia (MN)
- Snapchatting silly pictures to each other while at lunch with Jason, Jennifer, Marilyn & Paul (MN)
- Fourth of July lake fun with Gerry, Jackie, Adam, Jennifer, Logan & Liam (TN)
- Mulch-o-rama and card game marathons with Gary & Peg (NC)
- Girls' weekend in Charleston with Traci (SC)
- Chocolate milk hunting and taste testing with Cindi, Diane, Tom and Linda (NH)
- Hiking Mount Webster & Jackson loop with Becky (NH)
- Lunch, drinks and a long overdue catch up in Biddeford with Kate (ME)
- Cliff walk in Newport courtesy of Jennifer, Logan & Liam (RI)
- Lake Ontario cottage stay (and potty training for the twins!) with Mason, Karrie, Sadie & Finn (NY)
Are we lucky, or what? A BIG THANKS to our friends and family for all of your love and support (and dinners and guest rooms)!!
All these home stays got me thinking.
I felt at home everywhere we visited, but why? And what, exactly, makes a home a home?
Since Perry and I have been on the road for the past year and a half, this topic comes up a lot. People usually ask if I miss home, but since we are without a home in the usual sense, the answer is always ‘no.' At times, I miss having decent sheets and a fully stocked kitchen, but I’m rarely bothered by my ‘houseless’ status unless I’m queried at an immigration checkpoint. Then, I get a little anxious because if there is one thing I know about border officials, it’s that they want a definitive answer to the question ‘Where is your home?’
Determined to get to the bottom of this 'what makes a home' question, I started to dig deeper.
One of the first things I thought about was how much 'home' tends to connote a sense of permanence, such as your place of birth. ‘Where are you from?’ is a common first question between two people. But what if you don't identify with where you were born, or if you moved at an early age? Perry often has that awkward pause because his answer is far from simple. He should have business cards with the following bio: 'Perry was born in Schenectady, New York, but grew up in Maine and as an adult has lived in six other states as well as the United Kingdom. He currently travels full time with no permanent address.' Governments might view your place of birth as your permanent domicile, but for most of us, our birthplace does a poor job of defining home.
My next thought turned to home as a location/structure, but that seems to be changing all the time. Most people move homes many times over the course of their lives based on household size, life stage, etc. The home of a couple with young children is likely to differ from the home of that same couple at retirement. The locations of homes change too. Mongolian families pack up their yurt and move to a different spot based on the season. Western families change homes for a shorter commute or better job.
Then, I tried to lock it down it in practical terms. Isn’t home simply a place where one takes care of basic needs? When it comes down to it, home is where you eat, sleep, bathe and watch Netflix.
But after living alone in a soulless apartment in southern Wisconsin for six months, I knew firsthand that home definitely goes beyond the practical. It wasn't the apartment itself, as I also lived in a basic little flat in the UK by myself for a time as well, but rather I felt like a foreigner. In the UK, it was the opposite. Even in another country, I was able to feel like part of a community, with friends and activities that gave me a sense of home.
What is that sense, anyway? What is behind the idea that ‘home is where your heart is’ or ‘there’s no place like home’?
Looking back on our summer in the US, it's easy to see how our loved ones- family and friends (and cats!) made every stop feel like home.
It's not difficult to understand. Most of us would probably answer 'family' as their first definition of home, that place of unconditional love. A space where you can be your true self and have a sense of belonging. But, how is it that I've felt at home on the road all over the world when we aren't around family?
I'm more convinced than ever that home is an idea that lives inside of us. It's that place where you should be; and on some level, we are all striving to reach it. Yes, others can love us and help us feel we belong, but ultimately, we need to feel 'at home' with ourselves.
Before we all float away in this outburst of existential reasoning, let's bring it back to earth. Even though I've greatly expanded my view of what home means (a consequence of living on the road for so long), there is one practical thing that always makes me feel at home and that is familiarity.
I’ve had feelings of 'home' in most of the places we've lived, however temporary. Especially if we stay in a city for enough days that the simple act of walking to the grocery store feels like second nature, and returning after a long day out is effortless and comforting.
The ability to become familiar with a place relatively quickly is how I know there is no need to fear leaving home. The feeling of home is always there when you recognize the front door.
I'm far from being emotionally detached and it's never easy leaving friends and family. Making so many new places home is exciting, but it can be lonely, too.
It’s not perfect, but home is where I am right now.