There are several words in Greek that all translate to the English word “love.” If you spend much time in church, you’ll probably hear this mentioned. But I have never heard anyone talk about a language with multiple words for different concepts of the English “home,” and I feel like I need multiple words for this concept, just as I need more specific words to differentiate between “I love chocolate” and “I love my husband.”
Although this was not the purpose of this journey, I apparently just took a brief tour during the past 10 days through my homes of the past 10 years and I find this concept of “home” perplexing, unsettling, wondrous, intriguing, all at once.
Salt Lake City is dry and desert-like, seamlessly built alongside the imposing Wasatch Front, where the grass turns green in the spring without any extra water and with wide streets where vehicles pause an extra moment when the lights turn green because there’s a 90% chance someone will run the red light. I have lived here for all of two months and two weeks ago, it felt like home. I felt my little heart-roots extending as I learned how to find the library and grocery store on my own and as I felt more and more included and welcomed by my sister and brother-in-law’s faith community. I had never pictured myself living here long-term, but gradually the idea was seeming less far-fetched.
But then we drove back through Langley. Truth be told, I never really felt “at home” in Langley itself. It was my college located in that bulging-at-the-seams town that was really home. And even though I only know a handful of people still living in that area, my heart still swells a bit with anticipation when I cross the border driving north into beautiful British Columbia. There was a time when I wanted to marry a Canadian and move there, I loved it so much.
Of course, my heart also still swells a bit with anticipation when I cross the border driving south into Washington. When I was at school, that was the direction of the homeward bound. And so on this trip, as I wound through Bellingham, Oak Harbor and Anacortes, the familiarity and “home-like-ness” of these places was at once reassuringly sweet and almost painful. I love the rain, the greenness, the abundance of the local, the sustainable, the hippies, the farmers, the water. The memories of being together with my husband there are still vivid and numerous. I still feel as thought I belong there. Maybe, even though I’ve been transplanted to a new flowerbed, I’ve left behind some root fragments there.
And there’s also the journey back to Oregon. Until extremely recently, I always have said that I am from Oregon. Now I feel somewhat more displaced and I am confused as to whether I’m from Oregon or from Washington (I understand why military families eventually stop trying to pinpoint where they are from). This place is home because most of my family is concentrated there. But on this visit, I felt much more like a visitor, a guest here, than I have before.
I am ever drawn to absolutes, to black and white distinctions, but I will find none here. The concept of home is expansive, growing, sort of like a Venn diagram with places and feelings and people overlapping. Home is where I am blessed with shelter and warmth and bookshelves of books and cupboards of food. Home is where I can rest and spread out, externalizing a part of my self by organizing, arranging, planting, trimming, painting. Home is anywhere I can safely be me with those who I love. Home is in part determined by where I am passing the majority of my days, weeks, months. Home is tied to a place, but is not limited to that place.
After a 2,600+ mile road trip, I returned “home” to the city of the salty lake (la ciudad del lago salado) and slept in my own bed and admired the bright green tufts sprouting from the celery root I had planted and sorted the mail and started a grocery list and went to church. I do feel at home, or at least the feeling is being revived. But I’m also reminded that any place can be transformed into “home” — when home is defined as a place I’ll be glad to return to and sad to leave.