Brisk air greeted Stella and me when we stepped out at 6:00am for her morning walk, reminding me that winter and Christmas are near at hand. After she finished her business, we retreated into the lobby of our building and the feeling of home washed over me. This is the first time we’ve lived in a large apartment building and I am repeatedly surprised how much I like it. The apartment and amenities are lovely, but it was the positive vibe that made me believe this could be home. Making a home is creating comfort in the physical space, being involved in the wider community and having a sense of belonging.
Dwellings need to be lived in, and once the boxes were unpacked, it was time to remove the stale emptiness of an idle apartment. Soon books were on end tables, iPhone cords spewed out of their nesting basket, and my desk had a to-do pile of papers neatly stacked in a corner. The routine of life returned, especially the smells of life being lived-the trace of Dove soap lingering from the shower, the scent of our detergent wafting from the laundry room, the aroma of simmering garlic from last night’s dinner. And when the kids were still at home, even the stink from soccer cleats dumped by the garage door was a welcome odor. It made the new dwelling our home.
Each new community had its uniqueness but I found there were more similarities than differences even when we lived abroad-people are people-they care about their families, their communities and their livelihood. Getting involved was my priority, whether at school, church, or community events. Generally, the first year I was a watchful observer, the second year a willing volunteer, and the following years had leadership roles. Involvement was key to meeting people and embracing the community as home. It helped determine if I fit; most of time I found my niche but I had a couple of places that I never quite settled, never felt the comfort and belonging of home.
We always encountered people who had lived all their life in the community and couldn’t imagine anywhere better. At their best these folks built tradition and history for communities. The flip side was when the fear of change manifested in unfriendliness and suspicion of new people. Often these locals know there was only one way to do something, whether it was high school sports, acceptable playground behavior, or the best time for community celebrations. They couldn’t imagine another way. Eventually I heard the line, “It’s the way we have always done it”. Although at times frustrating, I tried to see that reaction as a gauge for what was dear to the community, to hear, “this is what we value, this is what makes us feel at home”. I wasn’t always successful at this, especially when it limited the kids’ play, something I valued dearly. They went to a school that feared harsh weather. When it snowed or rained, the students weren’t allowed to play on the grass or playground equipment, if they were allowed outside at all. But I learned new ways, too, including Memorial Day rather than the Fourth of July for community parades, high schools without football teams, hunting and ice fishing for outdoor fun. Most importantly, I learned different isn’t wrong, it’s just different.
I’ve heard people talk about the difficulties of moving kids, I disagree. My experience was that moving-leaving behind the friends and the familiar-bonded our family tightly. And the kids, with school and activities, assisted in re-building the social circle. Although it took time to feel familiar, to gain shared experiences with new friends, and then adjust the social circle to identify friends from acquaintances, it was easier done when there were kids under the roof. With a full calendar of school, sports, and volunteer activities, the feeling of belonging came quickly.
The move to DC, like the last two moves, was without children. But I felt boundless opportunity as I have with every move. A new area to explore, new people to meet, and new choices to make; a clean slate. Over the years, I discovered I didn’t re-invent myself as much as refine myself; a truer version. During this past year, I chose new twists on my preferred endeavors-writing, reading, being outdoors-I am blogging, tutoring, and hiking Rock Creek Park regularly. All help strengthen my sense of belonging, of being home.
I’m often asked, ‘where is home?’ I think . . . loved, respected, secure. I consider . . . my stuff, my comfort, my belonging, my people. I believe . . . home is where we are together. I know the asker is expecting a location and although I give one, the real answer is complex. This Christmas home will be Buffalo. Wherever you are during the holidays, I hope you are home.