What Makes A Place Home?
After foraging as hunter-gatherers, humans upgraded to agricultural communities, where we raised families, ate corn, and lived a spectacular existence — in one place. I grew up in a small Minnesotan river town for the first eighteen years of my life, then left to live in Senegal, now move around the world every three to four months. And I’m struggling with “home” as a concept:
The Old Definition. Home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.” This, for me, is Red Wing. But here are other places I think also fall in that category:
(a) Where you form deep connections (laughing with flatmates, joining gyms or jiu-jitsu clubs — looking at you, Canada ;))
(b) When you see the world in relation to your new place (feeling closer to forest fires in California, or feeling like the U.S. presidential election was far away while in Senegal)
According to fivethirtyeight.com, Americans now move ~11.4 times in their lifetime. Permanent is a relative term; family starts later and fractures more often. How do you deal with home being a multiplicity of places instead of a singular location? And how do you reconcile home as a place with home as a “state of mind?”
2. The New Definition. I scrolled down to the verb version of “home” and rather liked the two definitions that followed it:
1. Return by instinct to its territory after leaving it;
2. Move or be aimed toward a target or destination with great accuracy.
Under these conditions, “home” expands to fit a much greater variety of places:
(a) Where you feel secure enough to plan for future travel (when I went home to Minnesota while I was trying to figure out whether and when to go back to university);
(b) Where you go when you're super confused about what to do next (when I moved to Thailand not quite knowing if writing was what I wanted to do, but having a gut feeling about it);
(c) Where you feel inspired, driven, and pushed to succeed (when I lived in Canada and loved the mountains, sea, and adventuresome friends who kept me on my toes);
(d) And where you’re forced to envision who you want to be (when I lived in Mexico and thought hard about small communities, living alone vs. with someone else, and the value of family time).
Home is a highly relational idea. In Bill Bryson’s words: “It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.”
Since global travel means that you’ll likely live in countless semi-permanent cities, a home is now a place where you feel confident; where you center your mind in the world; where you view global affairs from; where you hold strong emotional attachments; and where you are, during the pandemic, staying put to focus on yourself.