Where is home?
Is there a more predictable or more fundamental, a more maddening and exhilarating question for TCKs and the adults we become?
Reams have been written about this conundrum. Perhaps ours is an impossible search, doomed from the start, because the question is too narrow to encompass the richness of our lives. Or perhaps it is such an easy question that we have no idea how to break down the countless possible answers.
We have our stock, shorthand answers ready, given by rote, when others ask, as they do, “Where are you from?”
photo by Michael Jastremski openphoto.net
Theirs is the wrong question, of course. Their question has to do with geography and chronology. It’s a conversation starter, and not a bad one to try and establish common ground, but often painful for us.
The ground we excavate in our private moments and with each other is the gut-wrenching, soulful cry, “Where is home?”
This is the question that goes to the heart of our place in the world. It has to do with the geography of our inner lives and the elusive nature of belonging.
Perhaps the most original and insightful writer on the subject is global nomad Pico Iyer. In The Global Soul: Jet Lag, Shopping Malls, and the Search for Home, he writes, “[T]he very notion of home is foreign to me, as the state of foreignness is the closest thing I know to home.”
Iyer embraces a condition—some might say an affliction—that I and many other ATCKs struggle to accept. We look for solid ground we can count on as we put one foot in front of the other. At the same time, we revel in its constantly shape-shifting nature.
In my first post, I wrote:
“Is home where I am at any given moment, adapting and even blending in, chameleon-like, to the culture around me? Is home Caracas, where I was born, and where I lived twice? Istanbul or San Juan, whose emotional imprints are surely seared into my DNA?
The States, where my parents were from and of which I am a citizen—and if so, which of the six American cities where I’ve lived? Or is it France, Italy or England, where I feel so at home today? When I first landed in Hong Kong as an adult I was shocked and even intoxicated to feel that this, finally, was home. In Kenya, that feeling was instantly displaced by the clichéd but real sense of cellular recognition, a connection borne of the truest spiritual homecoming.
The answer is, none of the above and all of the above, sort of. Place is just part of it. As Pico Iyer says, “For more and more of us, home has less to do with a piece of soil than a piece of soul.”
And doesn’t a sense of belonging begin in one’s birth family, especially for a Third Culture Kid whose family anchors that child’s ever-changing physical place in the world?”
Some ATCKs have found their geographical home, either by good fortune or determination. A number of my ATCK friends long ago settled in one place that is now home to them. They either made a point of setting down roots or dug in when marriage, work or other circumstance took them to one place for a long period of time. Finally secure in this area of their lives, they are relieved and happy. I envy them. I struggle to understand their contentment with staying in one place, taking maybe one or two trips a year—but I also get it.
I would love to find one place I can call home, and at the same time I suspect that if I ever do find that place—unlikely at this point in my life—it will, as the song says, hem me in. I already have many homes, and no matter where I am, or how comfortable I am there, other homes still call to me. So, much as I fret about this existential search, I have to wonder if I really do want to find one home or even two or three.
That’s when I have to give it up. That’s when I always seem to come “home” to the inescapable truth that home begins not on the physical map, but with a sense of ourselves and our relationships to others and the world.
That sense of ourselves has to do with the soul.
So if I were to fall in love with a man whose own roots are in one place, I’d be more than happy to go for it, because my roots would be with him.
And that brings us to ever more interesting questions which I’ll talk about in future posts. Whether we continue to search for or have found that elusive home, however we define it, the consequences are profound for our choices as we navigate our adult lives.
In the meantime, I am still pulled inexorably to place. I still want to find that physical home. I still plot and plan my next trip to a new place or, increasingly, a place that calls me back—a place that already has memories and context.
Maybe it is a search for the unicorn. And it’s complicated. Having many geographical places I can call home is a a wealth of gifts—an insatiable curiosity, a wanderlust, an ability to live with nuance. And yet. And yet.
We all need to be seen. We all need home.