Home. Love the word. The long ‘o’ stretches itself out, and the ‘m’ lingers a while. It’s that very definable, and yet somehow indefinable, space that is mine, ours. Poets have waxed about home for millennia. Home is where Odysseus fought to arrive, obstacle after obstacle – and after all, there’s no place like home. Just ask Dorothy.
How we each define home is also somewhat dependent on how far from home we travel. And it depends on who asks where home is. If I’m out of the country and asked by a native, home might be defined as something as immense as the United States – an area over three and a half million square miles. A trip out of state, and my home is Arizona, or a city, depending, again, on how much the person asking knows. Familiarity of one another’s space allows us to draw our circle of home as a smaller, more intimate area.
Home is what I miss – and who I miss – while I’m gone. There’s nothing quite like coming back to my own deliciously comfortable bed and my own shower. My neighborhood’s nighttime silence punctuated by yipping coyotes. It’s the familiarity of the route, of knowing where I’m headed. Of hills and horizons recognized. The rhythms and patterns of the day. The routines and rituals of life. The drawing together of hearts whose cadences complement one another. My heart aches a little less with each step retraced toward home.
The colors of home dull with contact. Yet, after a while even the vibrant tropical greens and sapphire blues of Maui made me yearn for the pine greens and granite pinks of home. At the age of twenty, I spent the summer in Paris, living with a French family. I was too enchanted with the city to notice more than a mute ache of homesickness. The lackluster greys and slate blues of Paris are monotonous but unifying – and were so different from my usual world. But after traveling south to Marseille, the scrubby hills surrounding the ancient port astonished me more than the Mediterranean, reminding me of similar colors in the Sonoran Desert.
The times in our lives which are the most difficult are those when the concept of home is not distinct. We float, anchorless, scanning the horizon for a beacon to guide us. These transitions are unsettling because we are literally unsettled. When we are unsure of where home is, little else in our lives is well-defined either.
At some point in our lives, we get to choose our home. To be where we love and with those we love. And while we leave home periodically, by choice or by duty, returning comforts us like nothing else. We navigate our own obstacles on our return: screaming babies in place of Odysseus’s sirens, indifferent baggage handlers rather than the Cyclops, the parking shuttle and traffic instead of the Scylla and Charybdis. For me, the anticipation of returning home at the end of a trip is often more intense than the pre-trip eagerness. As Ludwig Bemelmans put it, the best part of a journey is when the trip is over, and you are home again.