I didn’t think I’d be back here. As I write this, I’m sitting in Lawton, Okla., the place I was born, visiting my parents for the long Fourth of July weekend. When we visited last summer, we symbolically said “goodbye” to the place I’d identified as home. My folks were planning to move to a retirement community in Colorado and we weren’t sure that we’d be back here once they were gone, with our only tie to the place being siblings we’d see perhaps once a year at family weddings or vacations where our stays overlapped.
But life sometimes changes the best-laid and most well-thought-out plans, so here we are. And I’ve been thinking a lot about what “home” really means.
“Home” is an interesting concept, really. Although I lived in Oklahoma for a mere 20 years — and have been in Pennsylvania for more than 30 years now — somehow whenever I was asked about home I always replied, “I live in Pennsylvania, but I’m from Oklahoma.” It was as if I could not let go of the place where I was born and where my parents lived. I was startled when I realized that for my children, central Pennsylvania was and is “home.” For my kids, Oklahoma was only a place to visit, with interesting sights (sort of), grandparents and cousins, but for me in some fundamental way, it remained home.
What I’ve come to realize, however, is that home is much less a place we live than it is the relationships we build and value.
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When we moved from our house of 22 years in State College to Bellefonte, what I missed was not the house, but the neighbors (luckily, I still get to see them!). While the house in State College was our home, the memories we made there came with us, to be recalled in conversation with those who participated in their making.
As writer Sarah Dessen put it, “Home wasn’t a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.”
I don’t mean to minimize the importance of having a permanent, stable place to live. In fact it is much easier to build a home when one has a place to live that is safe and secure. The healthy relationships necessary to build a home are easier to maintain when you don’t have to think about where you will sleep.
But ultimately, what makes a house or an apartment or a community a home are the relationships that are built there; relationships with those we love and those who love us, relationships that shape who we are and who we will be. So “home” can be many places at the same time — where you were born, where you grew up, where your family of origin is, where your kids are, where your chosen family of friends are, sometimes even a shelter. Any or all of those places can be “home.”
Trite, but true — home is where the heart is. And our hearts, not constrained by geography or construction, can build a home where ever our healthy relationships take us.