Have you ever been in that in-between period, perhaps after moving, when “home” doesn’t refer to just one place? Several times a day I casually refer to our new house in Vermont as “home” (“I’m heading home now.” “See you at home.” “Are you stopping by home before you go to the meeting?”), but I’m about to leave for a weekend reunion in Michigan, and whenever I talk about that, I say, “I’m going home to see my friends.” These two invocations of the word seem at once casual and significant: the first refers to the home I have, the second to an idea of home I still feel and cannot simply discard based on changed circumstance.
I’m fascinated by what makes people feel at home in a particular place. Whenever I think the formula is simple–say, where someone grew up–I remember the exceptions: the friend I met in Germany, a transplant from another continent, who had settled definitively on her own in a small village outside the city and felt with admirable certainty that she was at home there; the friend’s sister who’d always felt out of place in her hometown and only settled happily once she moved across the country to a different climate; and even my own parents, who both moved to Michigan from different places but now call it their home above either of their “home” states (I know that took a while).
Home is, of course, defined practically by necessity; it’s wherever you find the job or the house, it’s wherever your immediate family lives. But once we get past the practical and focus on the felt, I’m fascinated by the question: what specific ingredients push a place from “here” to “home?”
Is it familiarity, particular people, or a sense of community, all of which grow over time and can’t be rushed? Positive associations (or the absence of negative associations), which can take root in early childhood? Personal values, which connect a person inextricably to certain elements of a place– presence of extended family, viability of career options? Hobbies (can you hunt and fish here, or can you go to a mall)? My peripatetic lifestyle has brought me to many places, but I haven’t felt at home in all of them– or even in most of them, despite living there.
I know that feeling “at home” is important to human identity. Despite the high mobility possible in our global society, identification with a particular place is grounding. My three-and-a-half year old son, who was quite shaken by our move this summer, still talks frequently about being at home now in Vermont. It’s a definite point of security for him, and I always reinforce it, even though this place is still an evolving home for me.
So yes, I’m going “home” this weekend, but I’m sure when I leave, I’ll say I’m going back “home” too. I’m leaving home to go home, twice in one weekend!
I’d love to hear some comments addressing these questions: Do you feel “at home” where you live? How do you know you’re home? How hard would it be to leave? Could you imagine yourself feeling at home somewhere else?