When I was 21 and backpacking across Europe for the first time, I remember wondering if it were possible for a person to someday make me feel the way that travel does: forever wide open, fearless, and inexplicably moved.
As military brats, my brother and I experienced a hopscotch-like upbringing where we grew accustomed to moving every few years. South Korea, Guam, Virginia, Washington State, Illinois. Each transition presented a new town, new school, new blank slate to be whomever we wanted. We were constantly in motion. It only felt natural to decide last minute on attending college in California, despite committing to journalism school in Missouri just one month prior. It only feels natural right now—nine years later—to be sitting here in a Manhattan library on the outset of my third New York City winter.
Growing up, I used to feel like an outsider whenever peers would talk about knowing a mutual friend since Kindergarten days, or feel envy at knowing a lifetime’s worth of memories were preserved within the one house or town where they grew up.
What’s it feel like to have so much history with someone not blood-related? To be able to revisit a certain room and see yourself at ages 7, 10, 17? To be able to paint your bedroom walls?
When the backdrop of your life isn’t a consistent geographic setting nor cast of peers, what exactly do you associate with solace—with home?
It’s not that the goodbyes ever get any easier, but the promise of a shiny new adventure, another chance to force self-growth, is what I came to know and rely on. Immersion in my friendships and community, then subsequent removal of that security blanket became a means of finding myself and reinforcing gratitude. I realized my surroundings did not have to define me—what became most important was ensuring I was happy with who was left whenever that was all stripped away.
I came to find beauty in the impermanence of fleeting moments. I found my home in being moved, by the people and moments that punctuated constant motion.
Sometimes, I have really uncontrollable laughter that rips through silence in the worst way. And then I quickly glance around mortified like, “Nothing to see here, nope!” But sometimes, it’s joined by someone else’s ill-timed cackle and I freak with excitement because co-experiencing ANY awkwardness is strangely binding. To me, that feeling is home.
Other times I’m in a state of muted peace, like when on the subway following a day’s sensory overload. In moments like these, I am completely happy just being anonymous. Just me, my book and a shared sense of calm with everyone else making their way from point A to B. That feeling of being present, even in moments most mundane, is home to me.
Often, I’ll stumble across an amazing book and lose myself in its dog-eared pages. Sometimes it’s recommended by a friend, but the best ones are found serendipitously—casually laid on the sidewalk outside my building, or waiting on a hostel bookshelf in Dublin (2010, The Picture of Dorian Gray, to be exact) with someone else’s words and soul-baring streams of consciousness. Pages filled with emotional declarations that are so naked and messy and brave—the way I’d like to be but am too agreeable for. Knowing that this once captivated someone else who wants to offer another human that same gift is home.
The first time I visited London, I got separated from my backpacking partner for three hours after the Tube doors shut between us. (Shout-out to the random nine-year-old who kindly led me to a juice bar with Internet access—this was in the days before busting out smartphones on Wi-Fi were a thing.) That unpredictability and sense of wonder that strikes when I am lost in an unfamiliar, beautiful place—that is my epitome of home.
Then there is the kindness of strangers who are hyperaware that life exists outside of themselves. Who understand that everyone is fighting their own battles, that letting impatience or rudeness take precedence doesn’t make life any easier for anyone. These are people who unexpectedly lead you outside of your head, leaving you a little bit wiser, kinder or more confused than before. They are home.
And most of all, I feel unmistakably home in all-consuming hugs, in good food, in good people who let their hair down. In the shared made-up languages with family and friends that transcend area codes, such as the unapologetic shorthand-speak that occurs among my closest. In pictures of my nephews, in the songs blaring from my headphones that have scored countless moments in my life along with those of many others, in memories both good and bad. In serendipity and the security that tomorrow is never guaranteed, so to always make it count where you can.
Maybe one day, my idea of home will evolve. Maybe it’ll include four walls that I’ll paint the freak out of, or a partner who makes me feel like travel. Maybe not. Either way, I know that I am never alone regardless of where I am on a map. None of us are.