Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Home

“Home wasn't a set house, or a single town on a map. It was wherever the people who loved you were, whenever you were together. Not a place, but a moment, and then another, building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.” 
~ Sarah Dessen, What Happened to Goodbye

My homes, so far.
There's no place like...well, we all know how that ends, don't we?  And to be completely honest, that's instinctively how I've felt since I set foot on Irish soil two days ago.  It feels like I've never really left Dublin - perhaps I've just returned after a long weekend away somewhere.  As if I can hop on the Dart and return to our apartment on Pembroke Road, just as we'd did a million times before we left.  It's a strange feeling, this feeling of belonging to a place I haven't set foot on in over two years.  Strange, but comforting.

This feeling has left me contemplating home: the idea, the meaning of what and where and with whom home is.  I joke that I am a "global nomad", a moniker even more fitting given the new path we have taken in the last year.  I dread the question "where are you from?".  My childhood was spent straddling the Irish Sea -  each Summer and Winter was spent in the UK until I was 15, no matter where else in the world we called home for the remainder of the year.  The first home I remember, for the first 6 years of my life, was in London, in a flat in the North of the city.  I remember it as clearly as if I were there yesterday.  It had an interior courtyard with a small garden, with low walls that I used to walk as if on a balance beam, Sue gripping my hand tightly when I felt unsure of my footing.  My bedroom had multi-coloured star wallpaper, a bright window, and my beloved box set of Beatrix Potter books on the bookshelf.  The very same books that are on C's bookshelf, in her bedroom now.
Where I grew up in London.  via
When our family had grown from three to five (plus the addition of Sue, our family's wonderful nanny who lived with us for 27 years, and who we all miss every day), we hopped back over the Irish Sea to Rostrevor, Northern Ireland, where we spent the following five years in a big old Georgian house, painted rose pink, with sprawling gardens lined with daffodils in the early spring and roses in the summertime.  The house was nestled within rhododendron bushes the size of oak trees, and behind it was a dilapidated old farm, in which the ghosts of the animals once housed there captured my imagination and inspired many a play time with my siblings.  They were very happy years for us, despite the less than happy state of Northern Ireland at that time.

You can just about see our Rostrevor home in this photo, hidden in the trees.  via
In the early 90's, a drastic move brought my family across the Atlantic to Birmingham, Alabama, where my formative years were spent.  Again, for me these were most happy years, I was very fortunate to slip easily into schools I loved and make lifelong friends.  I was so fortunate to have a very happy childhood.  From there I went to Washington DC, Paris, New York, and North Carolina - all homes of varying duration for me as an adult.  And aside from holidays here and there, I did not return to live in Ireland until late 2007 - 2011.  All of this has resulted in some rather confused feelings about where, and what, I consider 'home'.

Vulcan, overlooking downtown Birmingham (or, the Magic City, as it's lovingly referred to).
I always - first and foremost - identify myself as being Irish, even though I'm a dual-passport carrying Irish and US citizen.  I'm Irish in my blood, it's the country of my birth, it's where my family reside.  It is home to many memories of my youth and subsequent years, and, as such, I think it understandable and fair that I call and consider myself Irish, although almost everyone who meets me (especially the Irish) identifies me as American.  An unwilling "accent chameleon", I truly cannot control the accent with which I speak - it's not something I have ever been able to do.  My first accent was a posh little London accent, quickly replaced by a Northern Irish accent, and then a sweet Southern (American) drawl for our years spent in the Deep South.  All of this was unwilling and unintentional.  These days, I sound almost entirely American, perhaps with an bit of Irish thrown in here or there.  It all makes for a very confused cultural identity, and lots of very confused looks when I tell people that no, I actually AM Irish, born and bred.
Having said all that, I have always felt very much at home in the States.  Perhaps that's because the majority of my closest friends live there.  Or the fact that I've spent the majority of my life living there, particularly during those important formative years.  But the conflicting notion of home is something I find very hard to explain to others - it's not something many people can relate to.  And all this moving - this uprooting - has resulted in my not being able to fathom the idea of living in one place for the rest of my life.  How would I do that?  Could I do that?  I'm not sure I could happily do that.  Unlike so many of my friends who grew up and now still live in the same place, my family (immediate and by marriage) is on two sides of a rather large ocean, not all in the same town or city.  P and I will always live with at least one of us being far away from our family.  It just doesn't seem to be our reality to put down roots anywhere.  Having DC as a home-base at the moment is about as close as we will come to that, at least for now.
P + I as newlyweds, outside the first place that we ever called home, in Fayetteville, NC, 2006.
As I grow older and - I hope - wiser, I'm coming to learn that home really, truly is where the heart is.  Could it sound any more cliché?  For me, at this moment in my life, the majority of my heart is here in Mauritius, with my husband, my daughter, and this little munchkin in my belly.  But I feel that I've left little pieces of my heart scattered across the globe: in Ireland with my family there; in London, my brother's home and a city I haven't lived in for over 25 years that still holds a connection for me that I can't explain; in Birmingham, a city I love so much, with friends and memories I hold dear;  in beautiful Paris where I spent six incredible but challenging and important months of my life, a city I connected with on a very personal level; in Washington DC, city of my college years, where I met the love of my life, the city that is our new home-base in this Foreign Service life.

For me, home isn't necessarily a place.  It's with the people I love and care about.  It that feeling of being flooded with a sense of peace and comfort and security as soon as I am welcomed through a door and into the embrace of a person I love and hold dear.  It's the safety of not having to explain yourself, letting any walls slip away and so you can just be you.  It's a place where, although the people who once lived there with you may now be gone, the remaining friendships and memories are enough to make me feel completely at ease.  I feel fortunate to have felt at home in quite a few places.  But most importantly, it's comforting to know that I am at home when I am with the people I love.  And as our global adventure continues, I think it's something I'll cling to more and more.


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