I’m 28 years old and I’ve lived in 22 different places, with “lived” being defined as “stayed for more than three months.” I might have used a longer period of time, but in order to do that, I would have had to eliminate a good portion of my life from the count. I lived in a lot of different houses and apartments, but I can’t identify with the idea of a singular childhood home. I don’t have a defining place in my memory to serve as “the house (or apartment) that built me.” Maybe because of that fact, I’ve been a bit obsessed with the concept of home for as long as I can remember.
Before I say anything else, I want to say this: I am not complaining. I had a wonderful childhood and – while it wasn’t perfect – I wouldn’t do a damn thing differently if I could.
Anyway… I’ve been made fun of for my “home obsession” by close friends.“how many songs can include the word home before it starts to get weird?” and “you’re a big fan of that word aren’t you?” The short answer: yes. I’m a HUGE fan of that word. I feel like it carries the meaning of a thousand interconnected complex emotions that entire volumes of philosophy would struggle to enumerate and organize.
“Home,” – to me – is where a heart belongs… as it is… entirely… without the faintest trace of the need to change anything for anyone. Home is the place you go back to at the end of the day, at the end of the battle, at the end of the designing and building, at the end of the dreaming and reaching… to find yourself and remake yourself again… to rest and prepare for the new fight at dawn. Home is where you find yourself more alive in simple acts with family and friends – or even alone – than you ever did in the course of the most daring and wonderful accomplishments out in the world.
It’s a feeling and a sense that I have… a place I’ve been searching for all my life… something my parents provided for me out of a dozen different places when I was a kid; something my Mother is a master of creating out of anywhere she goes for longer than a week; and something I want to provide for my family as solidly as my physical presence.
So here’s the interesting question: Why have some places been home to me, while others have made me feel more homeless than I felt when I literally – for a short time – didn’t know where I was going to spend the coming nights?
The answer – at least in my estimation – has nothing to do with the place itself. It’s really a state of mind, sometimes combined with the harmony of the people that share it. Again, maybe I believe this because I’ve never been anywhere for very long, but I’ve thought about it a lot, and I keep coming back to the idea.
For example: whenever I get off a plane in Bozeman, Montana and look out the window at the Bridger mountains in the east, I invariably and instantaneously feel like I’ve come home. But it’s not the mountains that cause the change. It’s a collection of thousands of memories… it’s the reminder of what it was like to grow up in that small town. It’s the reminder of a little boy’s wide eyed wonder at the inestimable scope of what must be waiting out beyond the edge of sight, beyond those mountains… combined with the safety of knowing that the world could be – for a time – as simple and as small as I needed it to be. It’s a sense of progress and rest at the same time. And it’s something that I could have felt without seeing those mountains if only I had taken myself there.
See, I’ve also felt that feeling of home in just running into a friend. I’ve had that feeling in the depth of a performance when every part of the music comes together in the moment. I’ve felt it in the presence of the awe and wonder a little child. Come to think about it, I’ve felt it – at one time or another – in just about every kind of environment I can think of.
Last week – thousands of miles from my physical home – at a dinner a few days before my sister’s wedding, about two dozen guests – most of whom I’d just met that day and none of whom I’d known for longer than a week – were all sitting and standing around a large wooden table. It was early evening and the smell of burgers was in the air, the wine was flowing the sun was setting over an intensely green hillside – and right in the middle of a conversation… quite suddenly – that simple, familiar, beautiful feeling swept me up in its arms. I was home. It was overwhelming and wonderful… and it was essentially among strangers.
I wish words or even songs would be enough to clearly articulate what I’m talking about. I could give a thousand more examples of the feeling, and get no closer to viscerally describing it. It’s very specific and I’m sure someone could make a great semantic argument about my choice of defining home this way. But it’s exactly what it is to me.
And in that context – I know this much for sure:
Home is always with me.
If it was merely a place to return to; then, based on my life, I wouldn’t know it at all. Home is my birthright as much as music is my love. Home is the books I’ve read that have added to who I am, the music I listen to and write, the close friends I choose, the lives I share and hope to uplift in ways that can never be repaid. Home is mine the moment I can let my heart belong… anywhere… exactly as I am… in spite of what’s around me.
The golden memories and lessons of childhood are with me. The best parts of past loves are with me. The dreams I had at six and nine and fifteen and twenty-two are as much a part of me as the dreams I have now. All of those things become the pieces of what I call home.
The seat in front of the fire with my favorite book, the golden windows and the falling snow, the smell of cider on the stove, the sounds of laughter from the other room, the smiles of family and friends, the nervousness of inexperienced love, the first time I heard my favorite song, the last moments of an old year and the first of the new, the long summer mornings with friends, the first time someone told me I could choose what my life would be and the first time I actually believed it, my dirty hands from shooting baskets long into the night, the first kiss that meant something, the feeling of a violin on my shoulder… the list could fill pages.
Whatever is on that list… and to whomever the list belongs, this much is certain: we never lose that stuff. We carry it with us. And so often we bring it in to some place… and then we live with it until we’ve forgotten… that it’s not the place, but the heart, that is home.