For most of us, the holidays are intertwined with the idea of “home.” That feeling you get when you open your own front door at the end of a long day to warmth and light, being greeted with a smile, a kiss, maybe a hot drink, music playing?
As I prepare for a move to the west coast, leaving my current familiar home to make a new one, I ponder what it is that makes us feel at home? Is it people, place, belongings?
My first home was on a farm in Northwest Iowa with my parents and sister. But the house I grew up in is no longer there, my parents have passed, the changes to the farmstead make it unrecognizable from my youth, even the river that runs through the land has changed course enough that the sandy beach where I caught dragonflies as a kid no longer exists. The stand of trees where I picnicked in the shade has been removed to make room for more rows of corn. There isn’t much left there that feels like home.
I’ve spent the last 27 years in the house where I now live, the longest time I’ve stayed at one address. My children grew up here - my son was literally born in this house! We’ve had birthdays, holidays, tears, and laughter here. But children grow up and make their own homes, leaving a certain emptiness.
In between my childhood home and my current one, I’ve had at least 25 different addresses, many of them I can no longer even picture in my mind. But I have always loved the challenge of making a new place feel like home by arranging my belongings to fit the space. The conventional wisdom is that our friends and family are more important than our belongings. True, but aren’t the things that we surround ourselves with a big part of what makes a house feel like a home? They tie us through our memories to people, places, and experiences from our past. The little wooden wagon that my dad made for me, the steamer trunk that came from the Netherlands with my great-grandmother when she was 3, the chair that my grandfather rocked me in as a child - I could certainly live without these things but my house feels like my home because they are here. When I think of the victims of the recent fires in California, I imagine the despair of families, not just for their financial loss but for the loss of childhood photos, books passed down through generations, memorabilia that can never be replaced.
Maybe all we can ever really do is be at home in our own bodies. I feel most alive, open, and connected to the universe with my feet in the sand, the sea breeze in my face, and the sound of the waves in my ears. I’m not satisfied with the idea of spending only a week or two vacation at the coast each year for the rest of my life - that’s just not enough for me.
Nonetheless, I dread leaving the friends I have here. A new home, even nearer the ocean, will seem empty without friends. I’m sure I will make new friends, but I don’t yet know their names or their faces, not like I know the ones that I have to say goodbye to. There’s a saying I read:
You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.
So I will create a new home, hopefully a haven for peaceful retreat and a welcoming place sometimes filled with food, music, and friends. But part of me will never quite be at home there, as part of me is never completely at home where I live now. I guess home is a feeling we have to create and re-create, moment by precious moment, wherever we go.