The Ache For Home and Knowing

Written in January of 2021, shared now. 


The day we left Pennsylvania to move seventeen hundred miles away, I banished the words never and always from my vocabulary. I had spend my thirty-something years up until that point knowing, with a certainty that only the young possess, that I would live out my days in my home state (Pee-Aaa – as us locals called it). 

My husband and I were born in that same state, but almost three hundred miles apart, meeting in college. While travel was in our blood, and we visited as many states and countries as possible with our limited budget, our home state on the East Coast felt safe and comfortable. I didn’t think I needed to live anywhere else. But life has other plans, and when our daughter was five, we picked up and found our way to Colorado. Our Pennsylvania mountains suddenly looked like the quaintest little hills, as we climbed up and up to almost six thousand feet high, with the Rocky Mountains still towering above us. As the air got thinner, we felt lighter. Our excitement was so rich we could taste it! Everything was new and fresh. It stayed that way for a few weeks.

The first thing I missed was our family and friends. One too many moments of thinking, “I’ll have to take this to Mom,” or wanting to get away for an afternoon with my close girlfriend. A date night with my husband at our favorite local sushi joint; we had no one to leave our daughter with.

Then it was our yard, with a large shade tree, and our small but lovingly created, raised bed garden. Neighbors on both sides grew tomatoes, and whatever came through the fence was ours to pick, while we passed over peppers, herbs, and squash. I had taken for granted the ability to open our back door and watch our black lab shoot out to run off her zoomies or use the bathroom without our presence needed. I longed for picnics in the soft autumn sun, snowball fights in the winter, the smell of my lilacs in their first bloom, and shrieks of delight from my daughter as cold hose water peppered her summer sun kissed skin. 

I knew my sadness was complete when I even missed our chilly, unfinished basement; and with it, my ability to nestle bottles of infusions down there, where they could lay undisturbed, letting their magic happen.

It took a year to make friends that we could get together with regularly, three years to feel like this new place was home, even more to stop having those pangs of longing for our birth state. But the funniest thing happened once I lost this idea of a forever home: suddenly I felt unmoored. As settled as we were, as happy in our adopted state, I had this notion that there was no longer one distinct place that I belonged. Pennsylvania was no longer it, with every visit showing more and more things that changed, taking was it is further and further from what I remembered it to be. Colorado, with its focus on if you’re a “native” born and raised, or an import; well, I would always be a non-native.

During this time, I found myself in a cycle: buy “what I’m missing”, trying to build these images from my head of what I wanted our house to look like… then purging old items trying to make room. I thought, if I could just build the right routines, shape the space around me, then everything inside would finally feel settled. No matter what I bought though, as beautiful as those things were, it never quite turned into what I was trying to create. You can’t buy your way into “home.” Our small apartment just wasn’t capable of being all I needed. There just wasn’t space for rows of herbs infusing in bottles on shelves, a full wall of bookshelves, composting, gardening, an alter, space for yoga. At least not while also meeting the needs of the rest of the family (so very many Legos!). Our world felt small, our apartment smaller; it was where we lived, not our home.

As I started to doubt our home, I started to doubt myself and all I believed I needed to be happy. What did I look like when cut off from all that had been? Who was I in this cramped space within a wide open area, unfamiliar and new? 

So, we started to fill our school breaks with travel, checking off state after state, visiting National Parks, friends and family around the country, camping along the way. I was searching for so much, and we found more then I expected. We found adventure, explored forests, deserts, plains, shorelines, and mountains related and different from our own. Food tastes different over the campfire, and my daughter expanded her palate, willing to try things on the road that didn’t appeal to her at home. We put miles and miles under our feet, first with my daughter holding my hand, then in time with her leading the way. The stars ran around the sky and while every night (every location) was a little different, we could always find the recognizable constellations to let us know that we still belonged under them, blanketed in their familiarity.

Most of all, we found more groundedness in our travels. The farther we went, the more home felt like Home when we returned. Colorado was our anchor.

Maya Angelou tells us, “The ache for home lives in all of us.” While I still hope to cultivate the home I visualized – in fact, we hope to buy a house this year, with a yard all our own – I now have come to understand that time and emotional space are just as, if not more important, then physical space. It might have taken me dozens of states to figure it out, but it’s a lesson my daughter gets to experience with me first hand, and hopefully a knowledge she will take with her no matter where she roams. I hope she goes far, knowing this home waits for her, but so do dozens of other homes around our country and around our world. That home is not the plates in the cabinets, but the sensation of belonging. I still work to find that peace in myself, but I’m getting closer each day… not with the things I buy or make for our dwelling, but the memories we foster here. And when we need that reminder, its only a camping trip away!

“A bird in a nest is secure, but that is not why God gave it wings.”  -  Matshona Dhliwayo 

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