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What makes you feel at home?

Thursday, September 8, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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This trip got me thinking about place, about this idea of ‘home’ as a physical place, a house or a town or a country even.

International work tends to mess with your idea of home. It also tends to bring out the gypsy in us all.

I travel well, mostly. I don’t mind airports, trains, sleeping in a different bed every other night. I’ve traveled so much it may even be more familiar to me – this pattern of packing, shifting, settling – than any of my homes here in New Zealand.

I live like a traveler even here. For the past three years I’ve shuttled weekly between a friend’s house in town and our house up the coast. Wednesday afternoons I hop on the train with my little pull-along suitcase and head into town.

In the three and a half years since I left Afghanistan I’ve lived in six different houses here in Wellington, and traveled for up to three months a year. I’m constantly packing my bags, moving my things, losing things and then rediscovering them the next time I move.

When people ask me where I live, I sometimes have to stop a moment before I know how to answer. Even then, I’m never quite sure.

I felt at home in Taos last month, sitting in a make-shift Zendo with Natalie Goldberg and twenty people who I’d never met before. I felt at home soaking in a hot spring in Big Sur watching the ocean for signs of whales and in a yoga studio in Portland.

I felt at home in places now familiar to me after years of returning to visit friends and family, like College Ave in Berkeley, Mississipi Ave in Portland and at the Samovar Tearooms in the Yerba Buena gardens in San Francisco where I’ve been meeting people for tea and conversation for four years now.

I felt at home in places I’ve never visited before, on a hike in New Mexico or riding a rented bike along the lakefront in Chicago. I felt at home in the company of family, dear friends and my sweetheart. I felt at home alone and in the company of strangers.

And now here I am, back in New Zealand. Back ‘home’ and feeling a little out of place. It’s what I call the re-entry wobbles, I suspect. There is something about being away that brings ‘home-life’ into stark relief. The bits that don’t quite sit right are suddenly very visible.

I guess I just need to look out for yoga studios, hiking trails, bike paths, hot springs and teahouses. And to be grateful for the clarity that coming ‘home’ gives me. I can see what feels like home here and what feels like wearing someone else’s life. I can even choose to shed the bits that don’t quite fit right, and make more time and space for the parts of being home that make me feel at home.

What makes you feel at home?


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13 Responses to "What makes you feel at home?"

  1. I know this well.

    Interesting how different places and environments express different parts of ourselves. Like genes- different things come alive in different environments. When we’re ‘home’ there is a short-term grieving for the people and places that serve as a muse for the parts that don’t see as much light, as well as those aspects themselves. I find some comfort in knowing it’s this aliveness that lives in the hearts of others. Indeed you live in my heart.

    When we are home it’s hard to be from some place else. Connection is different. I also think that when one is a citizen of the world, it’s harder to identify with any one place. There is a greater tendency to identify with hearts rather than borders and minds rather than anyone place.

    For those parts of you that are come most alive in New Zealand, welcome home, sweet friend.

  2. Lynn says:

    really great post, Marianne. it was so lovely to see you, even briefly, at your wine country *home*. we just arrived back from the Black Rock Desert, one of our many homes – where everyone is greeted at the gates: “welcome home”. and home it is, indeed, for us. we feel so fortunate to connect with the clarity each year that comes from living in a temporary “leave no trace” city.
    We become more centered, more alive, more focused, fed in ways we haven’t found anywhere else.
    And, finally, we can’t wait to be *home* in New Zealand, high atop that Hataitai hillside, overlooking Evans Bay, watching the vibrant life that unfolds there as well.
    Thanks for taking the time and putting forth the effort to connect on this trip.
    We’ll be *home* again soon.

  3. Tatiana says:

    This was really interesting.

    I’m used to moving around, but instead of feeling as if I have a bunch of homes, I feel as if I have no home. But, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing though!

  4. Marcela says:

    I have no idea what home means anymore. I suppose nowadays “home” means wherever my husband and children are…but when it comes to a place, it is a gut feeling that tells me I am home. I can be at ease almost anywhere but the feeling that tells me that I want to stay in some place, that I can see myself happily living there, is only brought by instinct. I have never felt it where I was born, for example. I wrote about it in my blog last year, if you are interested. It is in Spanish, but it has a google translator installed:

  5. Roxanne says:

    Marianne, if you will believe, I just wrote about this for my Gypsy Girls Guide post this month… There is something particularly strange about the re-entry from a month or two in the US to home. When returning from conflict or post-conflict zones, home has sometimes provided familiarity and comfort for me: a seat on a balcony, some quiet from the sirens, the reliability of food on the table and warmth in the shower. Returning from the US, where a lot of my community is and where a lot of the comforts we miss in conflict/post-conflict zones are taken for granted, makes Greece seem less shiny and much lonelier for me.

    Home is where the love is, the deep engagement, the shared smiles and hugs. I think that may be why you can feel at home so many places: you dole out that kind of presence and engagement regularly. I know New Zealand is thrilled to have you back.

    [Also, it made me feel at home to read your words on my Google Reader again. Welcome back.]

  6. This is the daily question for me lately, as I try to make a home in a still-new place (I’ve been here a year). Home is where my husband is, and he’s with me – but home is also where my friends and family are, and many of them are scattered across the globe. Home is also the streets and trees and gardens of Oxford, where I spent a blissful year – and I haven’t been back there in a long while. So it’s all rather complicated.

    Beautiful post. Welcome back.

  7. Paula says:

    Some of the places you’ve been lately are wanna-be homes for me: Big Sur, Taos, Berkeley, San Francisco – anywhere with big sky, water, a non-tropical climate and interesting, open-minded people could be home for me. It’s the air outside, daily rituals and a few of my favorite things, maybe a plant or two, that make a place home to me. And I’m happy to relocate every few years or so and collect new homes, like a string of beads across continents. Is that too hokey?

  8. Kim says:

    This is such a great question – with multiple answers. Home is where the heart is, so for me any place with family and friends is home.

    Yet, I’ve found that places, like family and friends, have their own unique personalities (or essence) too. And, when you’re away from that place, you miss it. When you come back, it feels like coming home. Ontario, Canada is my birth home, Indianapolis is my home now, and I have also developed a deep connection with Oregon and Italy. They all feel like home when I’m there.

  9. Akhila says:

    It’s interesting; I love your post and can relate a bit. I have moved around a lot, though I do not travel quite as much as you. As always, I think the answer is “home is where the heart lies.” Cliche, but true. Though I have lived in DC for the past year, I do not consider it home. I consider home where my parents live, where my loved ones are– and until I build deeper roots in one place, I feel like home is everywhere I find love.

  10. Jo says:

    Yes, its interesting this idea of ‘home’. I echo the words of Akhila in that ‘home is where the heart lies’: a mixture of precious memories, the tender warmth of loved ones and those shared ‘togetherness’ moments that can also occur with seeming strangers.

    We used to move around a lot when our kids were tiny but, once they were embroiled in their education, we put down roots.. mainly to establish some sort of stability rather than permanence I think. But now that our youngest is about to start Uni, we’re starting to feel restless again…. what we thought was ‘home’ curiously feels less so.

    At times I like the idea of a move-able home but at the same time desire a more permanent .source’ to return to.

    Thank you for sharing. Thank you for the ‘food for thought’.
    Hugs xxx

  11. Max Daniels says:

    Love. Love, and being teased. That makes me feel at home.

    Love the question.

  12. Anne-Marie says:

    Home is my journal.

    Home is being with my partner and my family.

    Home is any beach.

    Home is my little studio space.

    Home is New Zealand.

    Home is unexpected and previously unknown places that click with me … like the first time I set foot on South Australian soil.

    Home is my familiar every day things … my favourite pair of shoes, my red coat, my prayer beads, my favourite books.

    Welcome back, Marianne, and good luck with your re-entry wobbles!

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