Where are you from? Where’s home? Everyone answers these questions at some point, but some of us answer more succinctly than others. The older I get and the more I move around the country, the more trouble I have telling people where I’m from.
If home was just about place, about where we are born and grow up, I could simply say that I’m from Columbus, Ohio. I grew up in a sprawling, suburban neighborhood where most of the streets are quaintly named after local trees and terrain – Circle on the Green, Oakbourne Court, Beechlake Drive. I lived on Hickory Ridge Lane. As a child, when I gave directions to our home, I always said the same thing: it’s the third house on the right, a white, two-story colonial with black shutters and a red door. I had no idea what “colonial” meant, but my parents always used that word, so I did too. Over the 18 years that I lived on Hickory Ridge, a few extra descriptors popped up – a basketball hoop, a wide-planked, white fence that ran along the path to the front door, and the red Mercury Tracer my brothers parked in the driveway after school hours. Our home was easy to find.
This is a recent picture of the Hickory house from the internet. The landscaping has changed a bit since I left for college in the 90’s. The bushes flanking the front door are different. The fence and basketball hoop are gone and so is the beautiful red maple that stood in the center of the front yard. The maple wasn’t planted deeply enough, so the roots that knotted and spread just below the grass caused many twisted ankles and made mowing the lawn into straight lines nearly impossible. For all its shade in the summer and the kaleidoscope of its leaves in the fall, the new owners were wise to remove that tree. So things have changed a bit at the Hickory house, but overall the picture is so similar to the one imprinted in my mind, that when I saw it I flushed with happy memories.
I have such nostalgia for my childhood home. I associate so many wonderful memories with that house and the life our family of five had there. To my great dismay, my parents sold the Hickory house during my freshman year of college and built a new home several towns over. Since they moved while I was away in California, I didn’t help pack or get to say goodbye to the life I had there. Maybe I was overly sentimental at 19, but I was really sad. I grieved the loss of that house like some people grieve the loss of a beloved pet. I realized that I’d never get to go home for the holidays and reminisce with my brothers when we saw our height measurements etched into the basement door. I’d never again have to wear thick socks on winter nights to protect my feet from those crazy cold hardwood floors. I’d never again earn five dollars a bucket or stain my hands black as I chucked rotting walnuts out of our backyard into the farmer’s field. I’d never again be woken by the chattering of the raccoon family that lived atop the chimney outside my bedroom window. My life on Hickory Ridge Lane was suddenly closed like the cardboard boxes my parents packed and sealed. Nevertheless, it would remain the home of my heart for many years.
For all the stability of place I’d know the first 18 years of my life, I’ve since learned that home is an adaptable concept. I’ve now lived in 5 more states and in Canada. While the idea of moving this much is foreign to baby boomers, those of us from Gen X and Gen Y see it as the way things are. Few of us expect to work 10 years for the same company in the same location, let alone 30+. If I can be my own judge, I think it’s fair to say that I’m rockin’ the modern-American-nomad thing. Some people have heard my story or looked at my resume and wondered if I’m flighty, lack commitment, or if I’m a lost soul. None of those are true. I do have an adventurous spirit. I love to explore, learn new cultures and meet new people. And I follow where God leads me. Sure, I’ve lived a lot of places, but that doesn’t mean I’m a hippie, aimless or running from something. When I land some place new, I dig in. My top priority – more important than finding the best grocery store, a reliable mechanic, or my new doctor’s office – is to cultivate relationships.
I’ve discovered in adulthood that I can’t call a place home until I there’s someone I can call and invite to a movie, someone to share rich conversation over good coffee, people who I can call friends. As I’ve moved around, I’ve learned that home is not bound by a sense of place or limited to a physical structure. It’s just too big a thing to be bound by earth, drywall and shingles. Home, for me, is a spiritual thing. It’s about planting yourself deeply in a community of souls. It’s about knowing and loving yourself and standing confident in that, but then deeply intertwining your soul with others’ and growing together.
Now when I think of home, I think of visiting my friend Karen during frigid Boston winters and laughing at ourselves as we ran out at night for pints of ice cream. I think of sharing a sunny park bench with Stephanie as we watched her daughters play. More sister than friend, Stephanie and I talked all day for four days when I visited this May. After I left, her oldest, Seraphina, observed this about her usually introverted mother, “You and Auntie Coco sure do like to talk a lot.” Home is the warm feeling that spreads from my chest to my fingertips when I snuggle with a new baby nephew or niece. It’s the joy I felt officiating Emily and Matthew’s wedding and standing up as the maid of honor for Holly and Dave. Home is realizing how much I am loved as cards and kind words piled up after my recent ordination. It’s the few days every year when I get together with my college roommates Elizabeth, Monica and Brooke. We laugh (or giggle in Liz’s case), eat really good pub food, and share totally real conversation about what’s happing in our lives and souls.
For this nomad, home is a spiritual thing. It’s about knowing and being known, loving and being loved. It’s got everything to do with my ability to see and acknowledge God’s presence in my life and very little to do with where I live. It’s more about gardening than using a GPS.
This is exactly why I feel settled and at home no matter where I live. It’s why I feel no fear, only excitement, knowing that I will be moving from Hawaii to California and starting all over again in January. But it’s also why I have such a hard time answering questions like, “Where are you from?” No one expects me to wax poetic about things like trees and friendship and God, but that is the best, most real answer I have. Don’t worry though. I usually have mercy on unsuspecting victims and simply say, “Columbus, Ohio.”
And then, maybe, I add a few sentences about life on Hickory Ridge Lane.