Monday, November 14, 2005

B4B: A Place Called Home

One of the topics for this month's Blogging 4 Books contest is "going home". The other has to do with how we perceive people vs. how they really are. At first I thought I didn't have anything to say on either topic and thought I probably wouldn't participate this month. But this morning a memory turned into an idea and the idea turned into a story I want to tell. So here is my entry: A Place Called Home Once upon a time, well after the dinosaurs roamed the earth, but a bit before it became the norm for everyone to have cell phones surgically attached to their bodies, I was a 17-year-old, brand spankin' new college freshman. It was my first time away from home aside from the occasional week at summer camp, which hardly counts because I always went to camp with people I knew from school or church. I was never really alone. The college I attended was 200 miles from home and I didn't have a car, so I was dependent on arranging rides with other students or calling my parents to come and get me if I wanted to go home. I didn't know anyone, and having spent my entire life up to that point in the same small town, knowing pretty much the same people, I hadn't yet mastered the skills necessary to make casual conversation with strangers, and to look for the common ground that can turn strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into friends. To make matters worse, in my efforts to protect myself from looking foolish or from possible rejection, I ended up often coming across as stuck-up. There weren't many people who fought their way past the prickly surface to realize that what they were seeing wasn't snobbery. It was immaturity, insecurity, social ineptitude, and all-around cluelessness. In other words, I was a mess - a lonely, desperately homesick mess. I started to think the whole "go away for college" idea might have been a big mistake. The college administration discouraged parents from allowing students to come home for visits before fall break, saying it would only make Freshman Homesick Syndrome even worse. But by the time I had been at school a little over a month I just couldn't stand it any more. I had to go home. I HAD to! I felt like if I didn't get home for a visit soon I'd just give up and go home for good. About the time I was reaching my breaking point, I found out a couple of people I had gotten to know slightly were heading toward a town near my hometown for the weekend and they were open to taking on a passenger in exchange for help paying for gas. I jumped at the chance! When their car pulled into my parents' driveway, I jumped out and was running for the house before they had even come to a complete stop. There were hugs and there was laughter. One of my closest high school friends was even there waiting for me. It felt almost like I had never left; like warm water parting to let me slip into the current with barely a ripple. It was wonderful. When my fellow students arrived to pick me up on Sunday and head back to school, I expected to hate the thought of going back. But to my surprise I was actually looking forward to it. I wanted to work on an art project I'd started before I left and I was eager to tell some new acquaintances (and potential friends) all about my weekend at home. When I got back to school, I assumed it wouldn't be long before the homesickness washed over me again. But I was surprised again. It never happened! I would probe at that place in my heart, like poking a sore spot and waiting for the pain. But it never came. I was fine! I was glad to be at school and I started to loosen up and talk to people. I started to make friends and have fun. It took me a little while after I got back before I figured out what was different. Before I made my weekend visit home, there was something inside me, however illogical, that felt like "home" would move on without me and leave me completely behind. Some frightened part of me thought everyone and everything would change and people would forget me and there would be no place for me there, ever again. But then I went home and everything was fine. Oh sure, some small things had changed. Change is a given. There were some new books in the house, and my sister had acquired a new nickname, and my high school best friend had gotten an ill-advised perm. But in every way that was important, things were the same. I was safe, loved, welcomed, wanted. That reassured me that it was ok to go away and try my wings someplace else. Something about that weekend taught me what my first 17 years didn't - that home isn't a corner bedroom in a small brick ranch house on a country road outside a small town. Home isn't sitting in the dining room of that same house, eating my mom's delicious cooking with my family and friends while my dad made lame puns and everyone groaned and laughed, (although I loved that and miss it still). Home is, for me, the feeling of knowing that someone, somewhere in the world, is always happy to see me, faults and all, whether that someone is a blood relative, a relative of the heart (like my husband), or even just my dog. And that's the sort of Home I could carry back to school with me. That's the Home I hold in my heart.