“Home is where the heart is.”
– Gaius Plinius Secundus (better known as Pliny the Elder)
What is it that makes a place “home”?
Not just home (as in, a place where you rest your head) but HOME. The place you belong. The place that invites you in and makes you feel safe and secure. The place you long for and miss when you are away (home-sick). The place you know, and the place that knows you.
And it is a place – a location – and no one can honestly say they feel at home in more than one place. It is a single location. Like a monogamous relationship – you commit to a single location for life. For better or for worse. And you go through the ups and downs of life, together, knowing full well that you will be there for it and it will be there for you. Though you may travel the world and have many short lived affairs with other “homes” (aka, vacation) – you will always return to your love. Home beckons you, it calls you, and you can’t stay away.
I felt homeless, so to speak, for a long time in my life. Without a place that made me feel alive. Without that safety and security, the comfort of knowing that you fit in that place like you fit no where else. I grew up in the ‘burbs of Southern California, and although longevity can begin to feel like the commitment of a true home – living somewhere where your heart is not is but a shadow of the real deal. It is familiar, for sure, but it is empty. It is nostalgic when you return or see pictures, but it has no pull. No, for 26 years of my life I knew nothing of a home.
(Do not get me wrong, I had a good home growing up. Good parents, well off and provided for. I am strictly speaking metaphorically – I suppose. “Home”, as I am using it here, refers to a personal location – a town, a city, a state – a place you choose and that some might say chooses you. Not necessarily the place you grew up.)
The Promised Land
I remember the exact moment we crossed the California / Oregon border in the summer of 2008. I remember the sign, welcoming us. I remember the trees and the clouds, the blue sky peeking through, whispering – beckoning. I remember transcending into the valley below, through Ashland, and thinking – I am close. Home is close. As we rolled through the hills and mountains of Southern Oregon, and into the flat lands full of grass farms as far as the eyes can see – my heart was pounding and my nostrils were flaring as I took in every breath – like it was my first. Something was indeed calling me. Somewhere beyond the forests and valleys, beyond the Umpqua river that kept following us as we inched Northward, she was calling me. She was Portland.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of transplanting yourself into a foreign place. Packing everything you have and leaving the familiar behind for the completely unknown. Leaving friends and family, good jobs and a peaceful house, for something new and unexpected. On the one hand, nothing could be more difficult. But on the other, when it’s “home” that you are headed to, nothing could be more magnificent and life-giving and freeing. To make a place your own, to call it home, to court it and fall in love… it is truly magical. Some may never experience it – but I am privileged to say that I found a home in Portland, Oregon.
People have lots of opinions about Portland. Portlandia (a comedy show) has definitely increased the attention Portland has gotten in recent years, in a good and bad way. But the bottom line, for me, is that nobody’s opinion or feelings about Portland really matter to me. It’s my home. It’s the place that calls out to me. It’s the place where I feel alive and connected – to the land and to the people. It’s a place I feel completely free. And no amount of pop-culture, or clouds and rain, could keep me from loving the place. It’s hard to describe it – just like you could spend years trying to describe what it is that draws you to your lover, your soul mate.
In August of 2011 – having lived there for three years – we left Portland to live in Santa Cruz, CA; Robin’s hometown. We moved for a few different reasons. For one, some key friendships had changed in Portland and we felt like we needed a change. But more importantly, we felt like we needed help in raising our young family. Having two young girls (and wanting another) – it felt like an impossible task without family nearby. So we packed our things, once again, and headed back down south. For me, it was a little depressing. It was an exodus, away from the land I loved, and into a place I already had mixed feelings about.
[ Paragraph where I bash Santa Cruz, taken out by editor. in other words, I don’t want to bitch about Santa Cruz on here, it’s not the purpose of this post… though I did spend 20 minutes ripping on it only to then delete it. ]
At first I really tried to make the most of it here. I tried to make friends, I joined a band, I started renovating the house we were renting from Robin’s parents. I tried to invision the next 10-15 years here, watching our kids go through elementary school and high school here. But the longer we were here – the more and more I could not imagine those things. The longer we were here the more depressed I got. Again, something was missing. Obviously it’s hard for my wife to understand this. This was her home for so long, and her parents are still here and she has found memories of this place. We would fight about how she just wished I would love it here – and I would concede defeat that I just couldn’t. I started to feel really trapped – like I had been put in a cage – and I started to dream of Portland. Again, it was calling to me.
It hasn’t been an easy decision to leave – to return back to the place we love – but it is the right decision. Everyday I long for our return. Everyday I am overwhelmed with the assurance that it is the right decision. Well, that might be an overstatement. It’s been terribly hard to decide to leave because of all the pressure from Robin’s parents. Deep down they don’t want to pressure us to stay, but what Grandparent wouldn’t want to live right next door to three adorable grand daughters (even if they had to put up with a grumpy son-in-law ^_^)? I understand how they feel – but if I am not right, if Robin is not right, if we are not right – then our family is not right. And this place, this location, this home – is not our home. We are resident aliens here. I think it’s clear, having left, and now longing for our home – that it is, indeed, home. It is clear where we belong, and although the journey home will be long and full of tears… journey’s end will be full of release and joy.
Portland is home, and we are headed home…