Today is my baby sister’s birthday. The day she was born is the happiest day of my life; today is wonderful because of her. But it’s also a hard day for me because it serves as a reminder of how far away I am from her and how much I am missing her grow; how much I miss her. And then I am reminded that I am also away from home.
Home is not a concrete concept for me as it is for many people. The question, “Where is your hometown?” is not one that I particularly enjoy as I usually have to explain that I don’t really have one. I have been a foreigner for all but four years of my life and even in my home country, Nigeria, however much I identify with the culture and the people, when I visit, I sometimes feel foreign too.
So for me, home has always simply been my family and my loved ones – the geographical concept of a hometown simply does not apply to my life. My family being spread out further complicates my feelings of home. When I think of all of them, I feel love, and that’s what you should feel when you think of family and home, and in my case the two are synonymous. But I also begin to wonder: Why should I feel far away from home? Isn’t this city that I’m in, isn’t it my home too?
Sometimes I feel like it is. Chicago has been good to me. Coming here straight after college and having one of my brothers here has been a blessing. I love the lake and my neighborhood and Chicago-style pizza; I love how the busyness of big city life sometimes clashes with Midwestern values. I love that Chicagoans are both friendly and aggressive, proud of their city but not full of themselves about it.
But Chicago is also a city of contradictions some of which I am uncomfortable with. The city is heavily racially divided and it is the unpleasant stench in the atmosphere that no one likes to point out. One of the joys I experienced of my upbringing was a true assimilation of diversity of cultures – it is how my parents raised me and it is sometimes what I miss about that home. While culture is available in this city, it is separate, not cohesive; it’s not together, and because of it, I don’t always feel at home.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that home is what is familiar and there is nothing that is more familiar to me than family. But friends are also familiar and when you live far away from your family, your friends become a family to you. So I am always wrestling with this concept of home and with whether I’m at home or away from it. My heart is with my sister and my parents and my brothers but my heart is also here in this city right now and in other places where my loved ones reside or where beautiful memories in the past were made. Maybe it’s a curse and maybe it’s a blessing for a heart to be divided about what is home. But one thing I know is that on days like today I feel a beautiful confusion: I am home here but I am also away from home. And then it crosses my mind that other people might feel like this too.
Home is a feeling; it is a feeling of contentment and ease and a feeling that you are loved and accepted. Home is where you’re taken as you are but you’re challenged and championed to be even more than you are. Home is peace of mind and laughter and passion; home is the place that you grow. When I am reminded of this, I take it with me because those were the first lessons from the first home I ever knew – my family. And once I am reminded of this, that beautiful confusion of feeling both at home and away from home somehow feels just right.