Heart Is Where the Home Is

While reacclimating to Pacific Daylight Time, I spent the past four days in Northern California for a grantee retreat related to my collaboration in a program called Invoking the Pause. Our funder drew her grantees together so that we could meet each other, and so that she and her staff could know us personally.

Though we didn’t know what to expect, it was no surprise that the experience was emotionally turbo-charged. Our first meeting began with each of us taking turns sharing information around a double circle of about 30 people, answering questions such as where we were from and where we called home.

The first speaker began to cry as she talked about her home in Pennsylvania, unwittingly establishing a safe and open tone for the rest of the convocation. Others were moved to tears in their speeches before these then-strangers, including me, feeling my eyes grow wet and my voice tremble when I spoke of the concept of home.

I explained that I was returning from two months in a place that made me rethink where I belonged. My biorhythms were still set nine hours ahead (which meant that it was 1 am when I spoke), my brain was wired to think and speak in Italian, and my body was already shriveling with the lack of touch in every interaction.

“What is home?” I asked aloud, hearing the despair in my voice; “I don’t think I know anymore.” I talked about Seattle and how much I’ve loved returning to it for the past nine years — until now. Leaving the warm Lazio light to return to a cold, rainy, dark Seattle felt like moving from heaven to purgatory.

I arrived in the late afternoon last Saturday and left for California on Monday morning, happy to reemerge in Santa Rosa’s 85-degree heat. And now… I was unsure where home was. Was it in Civita where I bloomed as a writer and an individual? Or was it in the place I once loved, which now seemed more like a storage locker for an apartment full of things I didn’t miss?

Later in that first session, a woman named Ann suggested that, for her, a woman who has lived all over the world, “Home is not a noun. Home is a verb.”

It was cold again when I arrived in Seattle last night, stepping inside my Queen Anne apartment just before midnight. After experiencing insomnia and dizzy spells in California, I wasn’t sure what I was in for. Yet, within the sense of spinning, my surroundings seemed dull and familiar — and in that familiarity, pedestrian. As I fell asleep last night, I heard my words to Iole as she and I walked on the Rialto Bridge arm in arm: when there are places like Civita and Venezia, what does the rest of it matter?

This morning, the sun’s brightness made up for me pulling boots and a sweater on; likewise, hearing my friend Critter’s voice on the phone at the bus stop –one of my first phone conversations since August– instantly evoked my smile. Getting my hair cut with Dan for the first time in nine weeks was a welcome albeit routine task, which brought me to a chance meeting with an old boss. Sitting at Le Pichet, I sipped the first good cappuccino I’ve tasted since leaving Italy just as one of my favorite peers popped inside to welcome me back after seeing me sitting in the window.

I wondered with hesitation if it wasn’t so bad to be back in Seattle.

When I complimented the cappuccino to my server, I learned of her impending trip to Italy, which made for spontaneous conviviality and instant delight. Talking about Verona and Civita made my heart swell; the conversation itself reminded me of Italy, where it was possible to share smiles, warmth, and generosity between two strangers.

As I mixed my coffee into the pert foam, I thought back to Ann’s words, and a later echo of them. Before departing our convocation, we each made an oath by adding one word to the phrase, “I will…” It was no surprise to hear, “I will home,” as one of the promises shared within our group.

Perhaps if home is a concept we carry with us –if we make home into an action, a place in our hearts, a stronger sense of self– then it’s possible to be at home no matter where our bodies or our possessions might temporarily reside. It’s that concept of being a Citizen of the World: it’s not so much about finding one place where we belong forever or “losing” something when we leave, but about possessing the emotional intelligence to identify when we’re in the right place at an appropriate time — and when to move to the next right place.

If heart is where the home is, then there’s no need to lament our departure from one country for the next, no matter how beloved it may be. If we’re always home, then the world is a menu of experiences that we can order up as our hunger inspires us — again and again, if we desire, or when appropriate, a new dish altogether.

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