Saturday, January 23, 2010


Home has meant many things to me over time. In high school I got in trouble once for not answering an essay question "correctly": we were to describe the one place that feels most like home, but I answered by explaining that many places feel like home--my mom's house, my dad's house, the high school library, my violin teacher's studio.

I have lived in five states--home is a complicated concept for me. Nonetheless, Kansas--the Midwest--eastern Kansas and western Missouri--the place where I grew up--is my Home in a way perhaps no ever place will quite be.

I went home for Christmas and New Year's for two and a half weeks. And it felt like Home; I found a deep ease in being with the people and the land that I grew up with. The trip even left me thinking that I may want to move back to the Midwest someday; I could certainly see myself raising a family there. I love the rural Midwest with all my heart.

But I don't think I would have gotten out of this trip what I did if it weren't for all that I'm learning while living out here in California. Some parts of coming back to Kansas were hard. In the Bay, I have found social circles where people grant each other an incredible amount of freedom in letting each person be who they are and act however they feel like acting so long as they are not hurting others. This open culture is most apparent in the wide range of fashion/personal appearance one sees in the Bay, or in the enthusiastic acceptance of people who have non-normative genders or sexualities. But I have found that this attitude of acceptance ranges to all kinds of diversity, creating an environment in which people are not judged for making unique choices in how to conduct their lives or for expressing all sorts of personal quirks. As a rather quirky person myself, this environment has helped me greatly in becoming more comfortable in my own skin. In the Midwest, of course, it is very possible to find specific people/groups that are similarly open-minded, but the culture is overall less permissive in this respect. So as I found myself settling back into Midwestern culture, I felt myself having to constrain myself in some ways; I found myself starting to re-police my behavior in ways that I've been learning to relax over the last several years. I could feel the old shame taking over my thinking again, and it hurt.

This sense of shame, of shrinking to fit the perameters I needed to exist within, was part of my experience this Christmas, but far from all of it. And I believe that I was able to have a much richer and more profound experience visiting home because of the emotional work I've been doing in the last couple of years. Specifically, I tried to apply the practice of letting myself feel whatever emotions come up and not judging myself for them. So when shame or any related feelings came up, I tried to let myself feel them. And I think that by feeling them I let myself move through them enough to create space for other feelings as well.

It was beautiful. On Christmas Eve it started snowing; there was so much snow by Christmas day that we were snowed in at my grandma's, and my sister and I couldn't drive to our dad's. At first I was stressed about our plans going awry--I was only in town for so many days after all, and there were a lot of Christmases to celebrate and people to see.

But somewhere inside myself, something shifted, and I was able to surrender to the situation at hand. I managed to find the spark of motivation to go outside and be in the snow. My habitual tendency is to stay inside--not put on all those layers--not make the effort to get up from reading a book or watching TV--but I convinced myself to take hold of this opportunity to be in the snow since I obviously won't be getting any snow in California.

Once I finally got all the pieces of my winter gear together, trudged through the deep snow, shoveled part of the sidewalk, I found myself simply standing, face raised to the sky feeling the flakes touch my skin. A fluffy snow, not too wet, the air not too cold. Light. Delicious. Later, my mom and sister joined me for a foray into the woods behind my grandma's house. Once inside and warm, we played board games and MarioKart (so colorful!) with cousins, aunt & uncle, and Nana. I went to bed that night feeling a peace, a happiness that I have rarely experienced.

The next day my sister and I drove to our other grandma's house, where we met up with our dad. This side of the family prides itself on being weird, and our gatherings are always full of games and quirks and laughter. One of my cousins was expecting a baby (who has been born now!); she (and another cousin who wasn't there) is the first of our generation to have children. Our excitement for her meant that the tone of our reunion was a little different than in years past. I could feel the change, but I could also feel the continuity; I could feel the love between us.

I thought about my cousin that night, as I lay in a bed that has been there my entire life. This was perhaps not the exact path she had foreseen her life taking; but her fiance is kind, their house is beautiful, and she was happy and excited to soon be holding her new daughter.

And I realized

Things don't have to be perfect to be good.

For the rest of the trip, my emotions alternated between the flaring of my shame/guilt/anxiety feelings, which I allowed to happen without trying to hold on to more pleasant feelings, and moments of peace, moments of fun. I love the Midwest, the down-to-earth culture, the space--physical space, but also, space within lives, a slower pace of life. The sky, the land. Family. Friends who came from where I come from. I felt rooted. I felt like I could breathe. I felt whole.

It was hard to leave; I was sad to leave. I feel more connected to nature in the rural Midwest, even just from driving through the country on a regular basis. I miss living with family. I miss winter.

I stepped out of the airport in Oakland, and the air was spring. Two and a half weeks of a very cold winter for Kansas allowed me to appreciate the warm, breezy air in a way that is usually lost to me, living in this perpetual paradise. I was warmly greeted at home by my wonderful roommates.

I've been home for several weeks now, finishing up grad school applications, taking some classes, playing an orchestra concert. I've adjusted to being back, and have tried to find a mindset of appreciating all that I have here, without always comparing to what I left back in Kansas. I do have a lot here, and I do appreciate it, but I miss being so close to family and the landscape I love.

Last Sunday evening, I went over to my best friend's apartment; his partner was also there, and his roommates were floating in and out. Low key hang-out, each person taking care of chores and work, bits of conversation here and there. Something that I did not expect happened: I felt like I was hanging out with family. My closest friends and I often call each other family, and with good reason--we've been through a lot together, and we know that we will continue to be there through the years. But this *felt* like family in a way that I've never quite accessed before with my friends. Comfortable, solid.

A friend of mine who's faced a lot of challenges and loss in recent years says that through these challenges he's come to see his family in a subtly different way; they now feel to him like "burnished oak." Smoothed with use, solid.

Perhaps someday, the Midwest will not be the only place that feels like home so deeply, feels like home down to my bones. Perhaps family is home. Perhaps family can sometimes be found in unexpected places. Or perhaps someday I will carry home within myself, will carry those roots, that love, that peace, within myself.

1 comment:

  1. My (other--how amazing and wonderful is it to have 2!) best friend told me that he sees home as "being a part of something." I thought that was incredibly lovely and wanted to share.

    Also, I think I'm beginning to see the East Bay Meditation Center as a spiritual home. I feel like it's a place where I can go to stay rooted and grounded as the challenges of life swirl around me. How beautiful and amazing it is to have a place I can call a spiritual home; that hasn't happened for me for many many years, and I'm starting to realize how valuable it is.