Friday, April 6, 2007

Going Home, Being Home

I’m beginning to believe that the greatest feeling a human being can have is to be surrounded by those who love and care for them. Not just being here, but time is beginning to work this idea into my head. For a while I thought maybe the greatest sensation a person could have comes from the realization of a dream. That’s certainly what I’ve been chasing for years now. But I wonder. Whenever we realize a dream, even a great one, the first thing we usually do after patting ourselves on the back for a while is figure out a new one. Dream fruition is an insatiable desire. But being home….. it’s complete. You want for nothing. In this sense, it’s a more perfect and lasting experience.

It may be for me (now I’ll use some “I” statements instead of sweeping generalizations) that I am in my “happy place”. And it’s a social place. It has to do with the people who surround me. It has to do with place. I still have goals, but I’m finding the butter of contentment to go with the bread of aspiration. For a relatively young, college-educated person this is a profound discovery. Place is the last place most of us are taught to look for happiness. We are mobile in the very definition of our existence. Our communication is mobile and high speed. Our careers are mobile and transient. Our relationships are mobile and replaceable. Families are like luggage. Better job in San Francisco or Nepal or Belize? Pack the kids into their multi-purpose transport units (a new father recently told me about these. They’re like pods. They turn from car seat into bassinette into the cradle of your stroller. Shout out to Preston and his new twins) and hit Expedia for our tickets. I was taught somehow, somewhere to seek out the best opportunities wherever they may be and go forth. Place is a matter of coincidence.

The best memories I have from my childhood almost all relate to summers down the shore. My father’s family is from Atlantic City (an hour from my home in Philly). On Friday nights after work we would load up the car and hit the AC Expressway. The sunroof was always open. We’d get into AC and head straight to the White House Sub Shop (my Pop is fanatical about this place). While I waited in line with our ticket he would call “the house” to get everybody’s order. “The house” was my grandmother’s place; the home where my Pop and his siblings were raised. And when we got there, we’d be greeted and promptly relieved of the heavy bags of White House subs. Of course, we did the same when others arrived with subs. From there, it was basically a free-for-all with 3 uncles, 2 aunts, my Pop and usually 6 or 7 of my 13 cousins sharing four bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen worth of space. My grandmother stood watch over all. For me, this time was strictly about having fun. My cousins and I played, fought and got yelled at and threatened. It’s the best time of my life. During all of it, the feeling was like being in a cocoon. There were all these people around me who showed me stuff, protected me. I never felt alone. I think in this way children experience a type of social nirvana. It really doesn’t get any better than the feeling of comfort provided by being home. Despite the petty squabbles and other issues that every family and community face, being in a place where you feel at home is irreplaceable. In a profound way, you are able to relax.

I watch TV, so I’ve seen this sentiment of “going home” talked about before. Usually it’s someone in the 40’s or 50’s grieving over a lost parent. Not making fun here, but this is the typical portrayal. For me though, I think being far away from home, missing my family and wondering to myself why I’ve come so far have propelled me down this path of thought. In many ways, I’m beginning to feel “at home” here in the boondocks of Ecuador. I’m a stranger and I’m still only learning the language, but there’s something about the people here. There’s something about the land. It just invites you in. Commitment comes a little easier here. No grand schemes are being thwarted by deciding to settle down in one form or another. My family is in Philly so that will always be home, but I’m also finding a home in this new place. That’s something that I think I was searching for, but didn’t realize. It’s this deep-seeded desire that hadn’t been understood, but I’m finding it anyway. It’s one thing to have moments of feeling at home when you see an old friend, or go home for the holidays. It’s another to feel at home when you walk outside your door in the morning. As an adult, that’s a new feeling that takes me back to “my small days”.


Michael Felberbaum said...

I feel that a sense of being home, or a sense of place, has to do with the way we form memories. When I think of my childhood it is in very specific places that still see somehow alive. People use the metaphor of roots, i.e. putting down roots, when you move to a place and settle in - and I think that conveys the sentiment quite nicely.

Umi said...

Yeah. For me, it's something that I was hoping for in a latent way, but couldn't say that I expected. In that way, it's a pleasant surprise. You don't expect to go to a place with a different culture and community, and feel "at home". I think it says something about how integral universal experiences are to forming bonds. It's a collection of very fundamental and profound experiences and emotions that create this sense of being.