by Sophie Johnson
For John Denver, it’s “the place I belong”; for Her Space Holiday, it’s “where you hang yourself”; and for Simon and Garfunkel, it’s “where my thoughts escaping, … where my music’s playing, … where my love lies waiting silently for me.” What is it that allures us so much about the definition of “home”?
My boyfriend Grant came to visit me in Chicago over four-day weekend. We hit the vegan diners, walked along the lake, stared up at the skyscrapers and rode “the el” to exhaustion. It was a great weekend, complete with late-night Pad Thai and frequent voyages to the local hookah bar; it was really hard to see him go.
After I dropped Grant off at the airport on Tuesday, I felt myself getting homesick for the first time since I got to Chicago. I missed Portland, my parents, my dog Foofie, driving my car and even Walla Walla. With my heart in so many places, how could I begin to explain where my home was?
We grapple with this question at this junction in our lives more than ever. For college students, home isn’t always where we live. I’ll spend the semester in Chicago, spring in Walla Walla, the summer in Georgia, but I’ll still be going “home” to Portland from time to time to visit my family. Where do I belong?
I have been in Chicago now for seven months, and I have to be honest with you: I have planned my future Chicago life brick-by-brick. That’s right: I’m going to get married here, have adorable children who go to school in Hyde Park (where R. Kelly graduated, a fact which was integral in my decision regarding my future children’s schooling) and work for some kind of liberal magazine with an emphasis on race relations. I’m going to take my future children (tentatively named Emerson and Eliot after my two favorite writers) to art classes at the Art Institute, walk my future dog (tentatively a playful rescue mutt with a heart murmur) along the trails on the lake and keep my future apartment (tentatively and miraculously big enough to comfortably house four people) smelling like spiced apple cider. It’s going to be quite the life.
Simultaneously, I can imagine no better city than Portland. Let’s face it: Portlanders are pretty weird (read: downright eccentric). Everyone’s always riding their bicycles everywhere and turning out for gigantic protests and stuff. People buy hemp purses and eat vegan food and everyone seems pretty happy. Plus, it’s just so green there. The world’s biggest and smallest parks within city limits reside in Portland, and it is the city with the most coffee shops and porn stores per capita in the United States. Furthermore, it’s the place where I grew up, and on Sunday nights there’s a house on Burlingame Avenue where a rather unwieldy family (read: mine) eats more pasta than you may have thought was humanly possible.
And then there’s Whitman: a community of thoughtful, outgoing people with curiosities and imaginations that stretch to epic proportions. When I was a prospective student at Whitman, I asked a current student what her least favorite thing about it was. Her response, of course, was, “It sucks that you ever have to leave.” There’s always a concert to go to, a play to attend, a forum to participate in, a club to organize. And that library! I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve spent stretched out between bookshelves just lost in volumes of poetry and prose. There is simply nothing better in the universe. Oh, and let me just say what we’ve all been thinking: Ducks are fucking rad.
So which one is home? Some will say that home is where you are most comfortable in your own skin. Others will tell you that home is with the people you love. Neither of these definitions is wrong, nor is either entirely right.
Maya Angelou wrote, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” I share that sentiment. Admittedly, there are places where I have never felt less at home (Southern California offers a perfect example), but I’ll strive to find home in every place. It’s just another impossible dream but a lovely thought, nevertheless.
When I asked Grant about the “home” dilemma over the phone, he told me what I must have known all along: There simply is no definition. The solution is in the puzzle. We must continue asking, searching and constantly examining our surroundings. In this search, we will always find new and different answers, and in so doing, new and different definitions of ourselves.