I shared with you recently my existential crisis over what the meaning of ‘home’ is. I have to admit I’m so grateful to my friends who rushed to the rescue with their insightful definitions which were laced with empathy and understanding for why it’s so difficult for me to define this term. The other half of this freak-out that I left out of the last letter, though, was that I’m actually really nervous about ‘going home’ because of my complex relationship with this word.
For years, whenever anyone has asked me why I’ve chosen to stay and live in Granada beyond the year I spent here through the CIEE Teach in Spain program, my answer has revolved around how the city simply has an encanto (charm) that I’ve never experienced anywhere else and how I’ve found a sense of ‘home’ in Granada. I can’t quite put into words why it felt like ‘home’ right from the start but it simply did—have I ever mentioned that it only took one weekend trip (completely organized by my study abroad program, at that) to Granada for me to know it was where I wanted to live in the future? I have felt this certainty for years. I have felt this comfort. I have felt this ‘home’ so truly and deeply.
However, feeling so much for Granada doesn’t mean that I’ve abandoned my feelings of ‘home’ for Chicago, Illinois and Indiana (as my family is now spread between them), and the USA in general. I still hold a place in my heart for where I grew up and where my friends and families reside and perhaps that’s what makes me nervous. I would never want to take away from the sense of home I have there—especially for the people who make that place a home—but I worry that not everyone will understand that my heart can feel full for two homes.
I’m nervous about the questions I’m going to get and whether or not my responses will upset people. I used to hate coming back from a year or more living abroad and being asked “how my trip was” but I was able to reconcile the different way in which family/friends in the USA viewed my absence because it’s true that those were limited amounts of time away and even though I fully felt immersed and settled in a life abroad, it was understandable that others thought of it as simply a vacation. This time I’m worried I’ll get frustrated or even offended if a question of that type is asked of me because I have lived in the same city for nearly four years now and so it would just feel like I and my intentions were being completely misunderstood.
I’m also nervous that I will repeatedly get asked “So when you coming home for good?” and that my response will disappoint people. Because I hate to say anything with finality—one can never fully predict where life’s path will wind—but I consider Granada to be my home now and I’ve established my real, adult life here. At the same time, I keep catching myself inadvertently saying things like “we’re going back” or “when we get home” to my husband (who is not American and so this is completely inaccurate for), so I know that it’s simply hard to break the habit and that perhaps I, too, will always revert to using ‘home’ to refer to the States even if the thought-out answer is that my more enduring ‘home’ right now is in Spain.
I’m nervous about everything ‘back home’ that has changed…about how everyone has gotten older and how life has moved on in my absence. I find myself reminding my husband that things and people may not be exactly how I remember them “just so I don’t create a false expectation for you”…but really I know I’m reassuring myself. Perhaps even more nerve-wracking is not knowing which things will feel entirely different and which will feel eerily the same.*
I guess in the end, I’m just feeling a little anxious because there’s this weird juxtaposition of feeling like I’m ‘going home’ (where everything should feel familiar and comfortable) as well as walking into the great unknown. It feels overwhelming, but also inevitable. Thankfully, considering the responses I got from my friends ‘back home’ when I raised these concerns, I know that I’m not alone in having such nerves—and that mixed feelings like these come up whether you move across the globe or across the country or even just across the state!
As I shared in my exploration of the question “What is ‘Home’?”, my friend Amanda led me to embrace the beauty of having multiple homes because I know how to move on but also how to hold on. However, while wonderful, she pointed out the very real drawbacks of this ability too:
“… At least for me, it means that while I can recognize the great in where I am and what I’m doing and even envision it as permanent and feel comfortable and happy with that, I can also find comfort and happiness in imagining life somewhere else. Similarly, I can point out the negatives of the various scenarios. Ultimately, I believe this leaves a sense of discontent and curiosity. What if this other scenario is better once I get there? I never intended this place to be permanent, but now I truly like it, should I stay? If I stay, am I telling the old place and people they aren’t as good? If I leave, am I indicating to the people here that they never were as good?”
Like Amanda, my mind races with doubts about all the complicated implications that are created by each decision I make (even each small decision, such as when I want to use the term ‘home’). As I write this, I’m even nervous about how it will be received and if it will hurt close friends or family. However I’ve decided I just want to be transparent, I want to put these thoughts and these doubts out into the world so that I can loosen my grip on them and maybe even release the silliest of worries (if I’m lucky).
Besides, Amanda closed with some comforting words that reassured me about doing so and I will share them with you too in case you find yourself in a similar situation, nervous about how you’re affecting others:
“No one is sitting around thinking about how horrible you are for making a good life for yourself. They may miss you, but they ultimately understand that what was once your plan may no longer be your plan. If you’re happy, embrace it, let yourself be content in it, don’t miss what you have for what you could have.”
So, on that thought, I’ll simply tell you that I AM happy. I’m happy in my life in Spain. I’m happy to be spending the summer visiting ‘home’ and I’m hoping that the two needn’t be mutually exclusive. With that, I’ll wrap up for now and bid you adieu. I’ve got to catch a flight to Chicago!