When you think of the word “home,” your mind might go to a picture of the house you grew up in. It may jump through memories of your hometown from first day of school to first kiss to first car. For those who were constantly moving, it may conjure nothing at all, images as black as the airport tarmacs you know so well. Yet in both cases, there is the idea of home, of a place you’ll one day return to or one day find for yourself.
Upon returning “home,” wherever that may be, it often seems entirely foreign. Your perceptions become refracted through the new feelings, insights, and personality you’ve acquired while away, and, upon returning, there’s the realization that the change you feel isn’t so much the place as it is you. After all, life is only the way it is on the account of the way we feel. As Lucy says in The Awful Truth, “I mean, things could be the same if things were different.”
When you look at your bookshelf from when you were younger or the music you used to listen to or you return to that café in which you spent so many afternoons, you see that life isn’t so much a series of chapters as entirely different books. Each time you go home, the life you’ve been living begins to fade, becoming smaller and smaller in your rearview mirror until it’s merely a speck, indiscernible as a life at all. The characters in your life begin to change and past lives become like a dream until there’s nothing real about it. And that’s perhaps the scariest phenomenon.
Upon returning home, it seems that time has never passed, that the world has stood still waiting for you to return to this life. That somehow the place or places where you grew up is the default setting that’s constantly being reverted to even as you’ve worked so hard to leave. There’s nothing that instills the fear of death quite like seeing how quickly time flies, and there’s nothing that shows how much time flies as returning home.
Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy coming home, but oftentimes it feels like a return home is like sliding down a ladder I’ve worked so hard to ascend. The world has continued to spin, but it feels as though it has changed directions and begun to move backwards.
Yet as we move from city to city or friend group to friend group or career to career, there’s the feeling that there’s actually no such thing as home. That home is a feeling not a place. That as much as we love our families, it doesn’t mean we belong where we were born. That where we belong is something we decide for ourselves.
I recently moved back to the city where I was born for a short while. It’s a place I wouldn’t choose to be were the situation different, but it’s not an inherently terrible place. Of course there are valid arguments against this, but I’d posit that there is almost no place that is de facto miserable. Even if where you are isn’t the place you’d like to call home, it doesn’t have to be lonely or sad. Home is in the mind and the only reality that can be truly counted on is your imagination. Whether you’re on a beach in Mykonos or working a dead-end job in a city you hate, your happiness isn’t decided for you.
Home and belonging are inextricably linked to your sense of happiness, of purpose, of community, and it’s only you that can decide how you feel. You didn’t have a say over where you were born, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have a say over where home is, even if it’s in your imagination.
In fact, I’m not sure that any one place can ever feel like home. There are always people or desires pulling us from place to place and even the most idyllic locations have their pitfalls. If you stake your happiness in a place, no place will ever be good enough. Finding a home doesn’t involve booking a flight, it involves your mind, the thoughts that go through your head every morning before getting out of bed when you decide on how the day is going to go. So even if you’re not looking forward to going home, if you’re unsure you’ll ever “get out,” if you’re anxious about where your future home will be, or if you never really had a home at all, realize that none of it matters. Home depends on how you choose to perceive the world — that’s to say, it depends on you.