1. The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.
– New Oxford American Dictionary (2016)
I must admit, I felt silly having the sudden urge to look up the meaning of this relatively simple word today. I stood in my living room after having built a fire, finally starting to feel its warmth bring the place back to life. My animals are happy, and we are molding into our little unit again. The completion of my overseas visit with my family became official as I arrived at the cabin.
I was quite anxious to return here—both excited to feel grounded again, but unsure of whether or not I’d feel lonely or lost here. I had just spent nearly a month with my family in Europe. I was nervous about returning to a cabin in the mountains, to a community with few inhabitants.
Well, as it turns out, I didn’t realize just how badly I needed to come back here until I arrived! The cumulative understanding of my trip’s experience wasn’t possible until now. It was during this moment in my living room, when I realized just how important having a home is.
This is what happens to me after any kind of adventure comes to an end—I don’t fully have a grasp on what I’ve just been through until I return “home.” It’s as if I need to plug myself back into some sort of charging station, in order to download the aftereffect of whatever I just experienced. It’s the gift that awaits my return on my doorstep at the end of any adventure—no matter how short or long.
But I started to wonder, what does home mean, anyway? As I remembered feeling many different instances of home over the past month, it dawned on me: Do I know what home is, or where it’s at? Do I even have one, and is it a good enough home for me?
Hence why I turned to the dictionary! Which, as it turns out, wasn’t much help either.
Herein lies the problem: Mr. Dictionary says that home has to be permanent.
What a word. Permanence. It made me uncomfortable just to read, and even more uneasy in my understanding of what home is. To me, the word “permanence” doesn’t apply to much of anything at all. None of my homes have been permanent, nor do I believe that they are or ever will be. Is anything really permanent? Why does this word exist?
For those of you reading this blog that don’t know me very well: I’d like to give you a quick download of my personal history. I’ll do my best to keep it short, and also say that my childhood had a deviated quality to it that is similar to (and perhaps partially to blame for) my adult thirst for wanderlust.
I was born and spent the first 6 years of my life in former Czechoslovakia. During my life there, the country was dominated by the Soviet Union. To keep this relatively short and free of bias (and to avoid a drawn-out solitary political debate), I’ll say that particular laws were in place to maintain communist ruling. This, of course, made independent choices challenging or impossible for its citizens. My parents wanted more flexibility in their liberties, and the opportunity for me to make different choices in my own life. Leaving the country at the time was not legally possible. So we fled, thus becoming refugees.
This escape of sorts was not easy on my family, as you might imagine. They were not allowed to know of my parents’ intention of departure, in order to minimize the possibility of getting caught. If word got out (and into the wrong ears), my parents would’ve gone to prison, or perhaps would’ve suffered even worse consequences for their actions.
We spent the better part of a year in temporary refugee housing in both Yugoslavia and Austria. Once we finally received our green cards (a green light, really), we made our way to the glorious United States of America. Land of the free. This place everyone we knew dreamed of, where freedom was golden and plenty.
I grew up with a very small proximal family: My mom and my dad. After Czechoslovakia came to its dissolution in 1993, members of my family (grandparents, uncles, cousins, etc), visited us from time to time. However, we didn’t make the journey back to our place of origin until I was 21 years old.
Throughout the course of my childhood, we moved around the east coast, eventually making our way to the beautiful Pacific Northwest. This is where I have spent the majority of my adult life and a good part of my childhood. Perhaps this is why it usually feels good to land here, again and again.
I love my family very much. If you know me at all, you know how important they are to me. This is partly because of the culture that I was raised in, but also due to the fact that I was not fortunate to spend a whole lot of time with them growing up. In fact, I still don’t. Any opportunity to see them still makes me giddy as an adult.
I try to visit my family once a year now, and I look forward to it every time I go. By now, I typically know what things I expect to feel while I’m there. It’s all comforting and very necessary, but it never quite feels complete. I don’t feel complete. I wrestle with the desire to hold onto the parts of my home there, that I know I can’t bring to my home here in the Northwest.
The “place” that is Slovakia, the location itself did not feel much like home during my visit. It felt unfamiliar, this is not where I grew up and it’s not where I want to be now. The people, however, felt very much like home. Not just my family, but Slovaks (or simply just central Europeans) were so much more relatable. I understood them quickly, and they understood me. There was a certain ease to them. It’s an ease that I sometimes feel when I meet Americans, but not often.
In contrast, the majority of the people in my life that I love and connect with are American. And they’re all here in the Northwest. At home.
Staying with my family also felt like home, even though their places weren’t mine. Being with them and surrounded by Slovak cultural “things” felt very comforting and easy to me. It’s so interesting to me how this works, because I have spent the majority of my life here and have gotten used to American culture. However, my earliest foundation is after all, still Slovak.
These feelings of belonging in different places were disruptive and confusing at times. They clashed with my overwhelming eagerness to return to my home in Scenic, where I’ve allowed other roots to grow. I wanted my life back. Anytime I visit my family, I have some amount of these feelings. But they were much more powerful this time. I have decided that it is because I have finally built a life for myself (on another continent) that feels content (however changing or temporary this current version of my home may be).
I’m realizing now, that due to my own breaking-up of what the dictionary says is home, my personalized concept of it has given me the ability to exist in different places. I’m grateful for this, regardless of how complicated it might feel at times.
Ahh, home. There can be so many.
But this one physical house that I live in, this roof over my head and this shelter and this community. This is where I have landed and where I rest. It’s not permanent. But it’s home.
This place is necessary. Whatever form you choose it in, and for however long it needs to be a home is entirely up to you. I think it’s different for all of us. It can be a structure, a community, a tent in the wilderness, a car, or…any place on this planet where your heart feels safe and complete at the end of the day, really. This place should not be defined by a dictionary or another individual’s own idea of home. Most importantly, it certainly doesn’t have to be permanent, the length of your stay may vary.