Our Definitions of Home

puget sound. photo by rachel b.

There are several places in this world in which I feel at home: Madison, San Francisco, Seoul and – the original – Seattle. The latter of the group is my “true” home (if I can call it that), my base of operations or, at least, a point of origin.

But my definition of home encompasses all of these locales, really, which makes it fairly complicated to cope with bouts being “homesick.” I’m forced to question, “Which ‘home’ am I sick for?”

Can I really call it “homesickness” when I’m sitting in Madison longing for San Francisco, a place in which I’ve never actually resided? Is it backwards to also term it “homesickness” when I’m sitting near the waters of Puget Sound, facing west, and wistfully recollecting sitting on the other side of the Pacific as though home is actually over there?

The emotion of homesickness becomes even more baffling when, as Rick Steves recently discussed, one feels homesick for the road.

***

It’s been a while since I’ve been in Seattle, roughly six months now. The really strange thing is that my flights to the northwest have ceased to be journeys of returning and have become, simply, visits. Though a Seattle native, the roadways etched into my mind like the lines of my palm, I am essentially a visitor there – my presence transient, temporary.

There are things I deeply miss about the city: chilly, pine-scented gray mornings, the rocky shores of the Sound, calm drizzling rain, evergreen trees, bug and humidity-free summers, cycling through downtown, really good coffee, purple sunsets over Bainbridge Island – the list could go on and get much more specific.

But the real aspect of Seattle that continues to tug at my heart is the sheer volume of memories that have accumulated on the city’s street corners, in friends’ apartments, on the beached logs that served as chairs for self-contemplation, and in the house where I was raised.

Yet my departures from these places have, each time, severed a little my connection to them – though I long to return, in my absence things have shifted irreversibly. The place no longer matches the photo of a memory I hold in my head – it’s home, but not the same home.

Perhaps it’s only a part of growing up …

sinchon neighborhood in seoul. photo by riИux

It has, similarly, been a long time since I was in South Korea. My anticipation to return is only matched by a certain anxiety that future experiences will be decidedly at odds with my out-dated image of “home” in Seoul. With the absence of a university safety-net and the network of friends it afforded, will I still be in love with the city as I once was?

A better question amid all – am I homesick, or just stuck in the past?

I’ve yet to find good answers to these questions; I suppose the only real option is to embrace the fact that “home” will continue to be dynamic – shifting in both concept and location – and to realize that even as I long for familiar places, the experiences that unfold when I finally arrive will be delightfully unfamiliar.

(Revised on 07/03/2007)

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