“Where are you from?” “Where’s home?”
Sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest.
In a recent post I considered the benefits of envisioning one’s ideal life, then working backward until a path emerges. I decided that elaborating my mantra of Money, Mission, Mate, and Home might be a way to try this out for myself. Thus, having begun with a glance at Mission, I now turn to a subject scarcely less dear: that of Home.
As I said in my original mantra post:
For years I’ve been seeking a sense of home, something more than just a place to keep my stuff and pursue my career and recreation…I want to feel grounded, rooted, connected. Ideally, this home would combine access to nature and urban opportunities; vibrant, overlapping communities and not too much sprawl; and not be too far from my family.
A year ago at this time, I knew I had to shake things up somehow. Straddling the border between comfortable and stagnant, I felt myself going in circles. Now, I want to be clear that going in circles isn’t necessarily bad: at a certain point in life, it seems we find those circles that work best for us, that circling in fact means digging down, nesting into an increasingly grounded, rooted existence.
Yet I’d never felt particularly connected to Colorado as a place, and the fact that the things I most enjoyed there were so far apart meant that (a) I was spending a great deal of time on the road, and (b) none of my micro-communities overlapped in the least.
Contributing to Colorado’s not feeling like home was that its climate, topography, and vegetation differ significantly from what I imprinted on living in Missouri and Illinois my first 30 years. It didn’t help that I was nearly 800 miles from my family at a time when my parents are aging and my niece and nephews are rapidly growing up.
Thus, when Austin appeared on my horizon, I leaped. It seemed to offer the things I most enjoy in much closer proximity to each other, and slightly closer to my family. Greener, wetter, and altogether more Midwestern than Colorado, I thought it would be my Goldilocks (“just right”) finesse of a college-town with urban opportunities. Thus, for the first time in my life I moved somewhere not for a job, school or relationship, but because of the place itself.
While I’m not expecting to feel fully at home after seven months, something seems off. I don’t dislike Austin, but so far it’s just another place (albeit with some great activities and people). It hasn’t captured my imagination, it doesn’t feel quite right. Not only am I not better off than I was a year ago, in some ways I’m actually doing a little worse.
I’d thought that without full-time staffing at Alpine Valley School, I’d be even more restless in Colorado. I’d thought that if I replicated my school and choir in a new location, adding easy access to a Zen center, I could create a sense of home relatively quickly and easily. I also thought I wanted a place where I could really dig in and set down some roots, from which I wouldn’t ever want or need to move.
Now I’m thinking I might have been wrong about some or all of this.
I wonder if we can choose what places feel like home to us any more than we can choose what we believe or what we like. What if, for me at least, home isn’t a matter of where so much as who? In other words, what if home isn’t place, but people?
Very likely the answer (the best answer at this point) is to give Austin more time. In fairness, how can it compare to a place where I have years of connections? In the meantime, though, what am I to do with this persistent restlessness? Should I consider returning to Colorado, accept that the school, choir, and friends I miss so keenly are in fact my Home? Could I be happy enough there—as happy as one can hope—if I found an apartment equidistant from my various activities and bought a comfortable, fuel-efficient car for all the driving I’d be doing?
What about going back further still, to Columbia, the last place I really felt at home? So what if it lacks the Sudbury, choir, and Zen opportunities I think I crave? So what if the dating pool is smaller? I’d be in the same town as my out-laws (my affectionate term for my ex-wife’s parents) and other friends, plus I’d be less than three hours from my family. I’d be living in an area where my roots go back more than forty years, where my family’s lived for generations.
For that matter, what other options (e.g., moving to another new place, taking some to wander) have I not yet considered more than fleetingly?
Clearly there’s a lot left to explore on this subject, although I fear I’ve already revealed too much. What frustrates me most, I think, is what’s bothered me all along: the way in which all these decisions—where to live, what to do, how to have integrity both with respect to myself and the people most affected by my choices—are so tightly interwoven, such that I don’t know how to alter one without hopeless tangling the whole project.
And so the overall question, the question of my life—how to maximize Money, Mission, Mate, and Home—remains as open as ever.