I remember a friend describing a scene she witnessed of a family out on vacation at the Grand Canyon. It’s probably a scene that is familiar to anyone who has gone on vacation with family. A husband and wife were trying to get their children to enjoy amazing views that the Grand Canyon offered – to just take it all in peacefully. But their daughter was tired and fussy and would have none of it. She cried and she begged, “Mommy, I want to go home!” Her mother bent down and looked into her exhausted little eyes and said, “Oh sweetie, we will go home in just a little bit.” But the daughter burst into tears again and wailed, “NOO Mommy, I don’t mean the hotel! I want to go home, home.”
In her bone-tired state, the girl revealed what is, to me, one of the deep truths of the human experience. There is home and then there is home, home. There is the place that we call home where we lay our heads for the night or a week or even for years – a hotel room or a college apartment or the city where we get our first job. But then there is that deeper sense of “home.” That place where we feel connected and rooted. It’s the place we go when everything is going wrong and find answers. It’s the place where we feel comfortable in our own skin. It’s the place we answer when someone asks, “Where are you from?” You know…home, home.
I heard once that home is a place that has a story. Through this series, I’ve been trying to share the story of this place, my home. I know people, even good friends, who have ventured out into the great unknown and have been able to find home, home anywhere they go. I have friends who have found home, home in places like Portland, San Francisco – even Toronto and Puerto Rico. For a long time, I thought that would be my life but after years of giving it a try, I realized there is only one home, home for me.
During all those years of giving it a try, I knew deep down in my bones that I wasn’t home…not really. I always found myself longing for something different, for every place I tried to settle into to be a little bit more like Louisville. I spent those years learning what home, home was not. I learned what it felt like to be in a constant state of liminality. I learned what it felt like to have everything a person needs – meaningful work, a place to live, friends – and still not get what a person needs the most.
In the two years that I’ve been home, I can say with certainty that this is it for me. This is home, home. And so with this being two years since coming back to Louisville, I thought I would reflect on what it feels like to be home. It’s hard to describe a feeling, especially a feeling that is so deep down in my bones and my spirit. But I thought I would try. Here are the things that tell me that this is my home, home:
I feel home because of the people. I knew I wasn’t really at home in other places I’ve lived because I never felt at home with the people there. Some places I felt uncomfortable because it felt like you had to be in a certain kind of work or have a certain kind of focus for your life. If you weren’t a banker or a lawyer, or if you weren’t renting an apartment in the right neighborhood for $2,000 a month, you weren’t in. Some places I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t care about the right sports team or enjoy the local attractions. In Louisville, I don’t feel that kind of discomfort. I can say what it is that I do without embarrassment and I don’t feel less than for not being in the right career. I can be who I am and enjoy what I enjoy without feeling like I am missing out on what everyone else is into.
I feel home because I get into conversations with complete strangers. It caught me by surprise at first. Every week, I used to sit at the bar at Dragon King’s Daughter for lunch on my day off. I was by myself – it was my time to recover from a week of work and I was fine being alone at lunch. As the lunch crowd started to bustle in, someone would sit down next to me and then they’d started chatting. Small stuff at first. But then we’d keep at it and then soon enough we’d be having big conversations about bicycling or politics or whatever.
I thought it would be a one time thing. Then it happened the next week. And the week after that. Pretty soon, I realized it wasn’t a one time thing. It was a sign of the friendliness of the city and the fact that we’re all comfortable enough around each other that even though we might be complete strangers, we can find something to connect over.
I feel home because I never get tired of exploring this place. In most places I’ve lived, I’ve found the three or four places I liked and then one or two neighborhoods I liked to hang out in and that’s pretty much what I stuck to. Not here. I can’t get enough of this place. Whether it’s walking through the Highlands or driving out to the South End to visit my dad and go to Rubbies, or heading out to Bernheim Forest for the day. There’s so much to the city and there’s so much more I want to get to know.
I feel home because I feel like the struggles of Louisville are my struggles. When you don’t feel you are truly home, I noticed that it’s a lot easier to distance yourself from whatever the place you live in might be facing. You didn’t create the problem so why should you be worried about fixing it? But here, I can’t detach myself so easily. Racial tension, economic inequality, the struggle for good jobs and a clean Commonwealth – I am a part of these problems and I also want to be a part of the solution.
Some years ago, I was on my way home to visit my family. The trip from North Carolina meant that I would come in on I-64 and then switch over to the Watterson Expressway and take it out to Southern Parkway and get off there. But on this trip, I got lost in thought and I missed the connection to the Watterson. I finally realized my mistake but surprisingly, I wasn’t worried at all. In fact, I welcomed the longer detour. Because this meant I could drive through the tunnel right before Grinstead and then I could drive right through downtown and see all the city lights bouncing off the river. Even though I took a wrong turn, I didn’t care for a second. I was happy to get lost in my city.
I think that’s the point. You know you’re home when you live in a place that you can completely lost in it and not care for a second. Friends, that’s my hope for you and for everyone. That we can find our true home – a place where we feel challenged and connected and loved and free. The great spiritual teacher Ram Dass said that, when all is said and done, we’re all just walking each other home. You know…home, home.