If you had asked me a year ago to define what home meant to me, I would tell you it was the winding back roads that I spent endless hours driving down with my best friends. It was the bedroom I painted purple in first grade and the glow of the fireplace that enveloped my living room in a warm embrace on December evenings. It was a town of 11,000 with one traffic light, two Dunkin’s, and all of the people I loved.
Until I was 19, my entire world existed within the 15-square-mile confines of Norfolk, Mass. I always knew it was only a matter of time before I outgrew my childhood safe space, but this understanding filled me with overwhelming guilt. Outgrowing meant growing up, and growing up was a catalyst of change. Change, in all of its ambiguity and unpredictability, had long been a part of life I tried to push away.
Then, I started college. And as I became more acclimated to my new life, I allowed myself to start embracing change. Instead of fear, I found excitement in the unpredictability of my day-to-day life. But as much as I wanted to fully immerse myself in this new life I was building, I couldn’t help but worry that I was creating an uncomfortable distance from the place I called home. I was only 16 miles away from Norfolk, but I felt my childhood slipping away. It scared me that I might be shifting the definition of home I had ascribed to for most of my life.
I told myself that going back for the summer would assuage my worries about the separation I felt from my past. I was sorely mistaken.
The quintessential boredom that seemed to be a hallmark of high school summers still lingered when I returned home, but the comfort I once found in this simplicity vanished. While I was at Boston College, I found the quaintness of my hometown endearing. Now it was just an annoyance. I felt like every day spent working my painfully monotonous retail job and driving in circles around town with my friends was a step backward. Instead of appreciating the break from impending exams, my friends and I spent nights fixating on how stagnant our lives felt.
When I was at school, I yearned for one more family dinner or a spontaneous day trip with my best friends. As soon as I had all of that back, I missed my college friends who were scattered across time zones and wished I could spend just one more night in my freshman dorm room. With my life now fragmented between two places, I realized that I would never escape feeling the slightest bit of wistfulness no matter where I was.
It’s strange feeling like you’ve outgrown the place that was once your entire world. Now I only hear my childhood friends’ laughs over the phone, and Christmas break is one of the only times I share a roof with my family. But at the same time, our world is growing with us. No longer confined to towns along the Rhode Island border, my circle of friends now spans from the Jersey Shore to the Seattle coastline and, for the first time in my life, I have a legitimate reason to visit Kentucky.
I’m still learning to embrace change, but I’ve started viewing it as a reason to be grateful rather than something to run from. I can appreciate my hometown for bringing so many meaningful relationships into my life, but I can also acknowledge that the physical place might not have much left for me. It gave me a foundation for the idea of home, and for that it will always hold a special place in my life. But today, I would argue that a broadening sense of home demonstrates a life lived to the fullest.
So what is home, really? I’d assert that it’s so much more than a house. Home is a relationship that can withstand any distance. Home is a person that you can sit with in silence one day and pour your heart out to the next. Home is not necessarily a place, but rather a feeling of overwhelming, all-encompassing comfort. Home is love, and love can be found everywhere.