Where is home?
That’s the defining question for millions of men, women and children, now. Millions of older Americans are adapting to moves in retirement. Millions of young adults are moving in with their parents, because they can’t afford homes. And, of course, around the world homelessness affects huge populations. One of our most popular ReadTheSpirit columns, this spring, is headlined “Another Great Reason to Join a Congregation.”
What is that reason?
Good congregations are like homes.
Writer Gayle Campbell (center in the photo at right) is an expert on the many challenges faced by 20-something adults. She has become a popular contributor to ReadTheSpirit and OurValues, our daily column that encourages civil dialogue on challenging issues in the news. In 2011, while she was serving as OurValues media director, Gayle wrote this five-part series on the tough stuff her Millennial or Gen Y generation is facing.
Since then, Gayle has circled the globe. And, wherever she goes—she’s home. We invited Gayle to write about that graceful insight, which is such a crucial adaptive skill in the tumult of this new century.
Born on Wheels
and Finding Home
By GAYLE CAMPBELL
As a 20-something traveler seemingly born on wheels, I’ve wanted to leave “home” for as long as I can remember. It’s not that I disliked my hometown or was eager to leave family or friends. In fact, the opposite was true. I loved my childhood and adolescence. But growing up in a wealthy suburb on the outskirts of Detroit taught me from an early age that the world was far larger than my little corner. Just traveling two blocks into neighboring Detroit was entering another world. I could only imagine what another hemisphere might look like. I was eager to explore.
Explore I did in the five years following my official move-out date from my parents’ house. From the rural highlands of Vietnam, to the colorful streets of Bergen, Norway, to the Caribbean coast of the Dominican Republic, I immersed myself in cultures vastly different than my own. I made homes amongst the maize and blue masses in Ann Arbor, the tapas and Sangria culture of Southern Spain, the bustling streets of our nation’s capital, and the mountains of rural Honduras.
We all like to say that home is where the heart is—but I found myself scattering bits of my heart in nearly every corner of the world. One might think such transience would leave me feeling restless, displaced, homeless, even. On the contrary, I feel richer, more content, and like I belong—not only in one place, but in many. It’s not that I don’t have a home; but rather that I am fortunate enough to have places all over the globe I call home.
So what exactly defines these homes for me? What separates the houses I lived in from the homes?
For starters, I never called my first-year college dormitory home. Try as I did to make my 12-by-12 room, community bathroom, and shared cafeteria my own, it never really felt “homey.” At this stage of my life, home was still very well defined as my childhood home. But sophomore year, when I moved into a six-bedroom house off campus with five of my best friends, there was a distinct shift in my vernacular. Suddenly phrases like “I’m on my way home” became confusing—was I driving back to my parent’s house in Grosse Pointe, or walking back to my college house on Greenwood Avenue?
Over the next three years, it was this house—with its stained carpets, patchy lawn, and unfortunately unreliable plumbing—that really became home. In the midst of my transitional years, it was stable (even if the plumbing wasn’t). It was the place I could go return at the end of a long day of classes and put my feet up. It was where I knew I’d find my best friends, and where I knew I could most be myself.
But, I was still impatient to see more. So off I went, knowing I’d be back sooner or later. I spent two summers in Washington D.C., where I quickly fell in love with the smart, informed, fast-paced culture. There it wasn’t my sixth-floor apartment, or cozy air mattress on the floor that really felt like home to me. It was the city itself. It was my favorite running trail, the frozen yogurt shop around the corner, the park where I took my lunch break. It was the people all around me, and the way I felt every time my plane touched down in Reagan National Airport.
The transitions continued. I left the country in January 2010 for a six-month stint in the south of Spain. The foreign culture was at first the polar opposite of home—I was surrounded by a language that wasn’t my own, traditions I didn’t know, and a big city I had yet to explore. But I was also given a new family—specifically a 65-year old woman and her 11-year old golden retriever—to help my transition. And slowly but surely, this woman became like a second mother to me, and the dog like my own. Between nightly feasts of gazpacho and Spanish tortillas, the city that smelled of sweet orange blossoms quickly became my own. Today, the smell of fresh oranges still conjures up feelings of homesickness for Sevilla.
Today I am living in our south-of-the-border neighbor, Honduras. In a little village on top of the mountains, I am about as far away from home as one could imagine. But here amid the humble, kindhearted people, old-fashioned lifestyle, and lush green mountains, I have found yet another home.
When I first arrived, all people could do was stare. Who was this strange white girl who went for runs around town? Wasn’t doing your laundry by hand on a concrete block and flipping tortillas for hours each day enough exercise for her? I was an alien to them. But as the months have passed, I have not only been accepted into this community, but the culture itself has been imprinted on me. And in this village where street names and house numbers don’t exist, I’ve found home.
Today, the question of home still arises often. While traveling, I’m constantly asked: “Where are you from?”
The first few times I left the country, this question was simple. There was no hesitation, no uncertainty. I’d been born and raised in the same town, even the same street, all my life it seemed.
Today, I pause. It’s the same pause that happens when I’m filling out the “home address” section of my resume. If we’re trying to be technical, I just came from Honduras, previously came from Ann Arbor, and originally came from Detroit.
But home isn’t defined by such technicalities. Rather, home is the intangible—the smells, tastes, sounds and feelings. Home will always be the smell of spiced apple cider on Mom’s stove at Christmastime, the chanting of “Hail to the Victors” in the Big House in Ann Arbor, the taste of Sangria, the sound of the D.C. metro, and the warm embrace of Honduran schoolchildren. And with a big thanks to frequent flyer miles, I can always go home again.
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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.