This is the written version of a piece I shared at a storytelling event last year.
When my friend Hannah announced that the theme for this storytelling event was Home and told me I had to tell a story, I got nervous. You see, I have a lot of stories but I also have a somewhat conflicted relationship with Home.
It’s not that I had a bad home life growing up. If I know anything, it’s that my parents love me and my seven siblings. And we all love them and each other too.
It’s not that I don’t like homes or have anything against homemaking. While some little girls daydream about their future weddings, I spent a my time imagining what I wanted my grown-up home to look like one day. I always imagined it big with a huge attic to read in on rainy days and a giant yard where I would spend every sunny day hosting parties and entertaining friends.
So it’s not the idea of home that I am conflicted with. It’s mostly that I don’t know where my home is and I feel like a lot of my life has been spent looking for it.
By the time I was 18, I had lived in 10 different cities in 4 different countries and I think 18 different houses. In each of the houses we lived in my mother worked really hard to make them feel like home and many of them did. But I was always aware that I was not Home. For one thing, I was a TCK (a third culture kid). For much of my formative years, I was not living in my parents’ home culture (first culture). We were not immigrants to the culture we were living in (second culture). Instead my siblings and I and many of the kids we grew up with formed our own culture (third culture). (And as any TCK is quick to note. one of the most famous TCKs of all is President Barak Obama.) As exotic as all of this sounds, the point is that I didn’t even have a “home culture”.
One of the first chapter books my dad read to me when I was little was “The Little House in the Big Woods”. The first book in the Little House on the Prairie series. Almost all of the books in the series are named after where the family was living at the time. And even though they moved often in Laura Ingalls’ young life, they never seemed to doubt that they belonged where they lived. (Which is actually a whole other conversation about colonialism and American settlers and whether any of that land really belonged to them. But anyway…)
In high school, I (along with everyone else who was in high school in 2001 when The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out) read the Lord of the Rings series for the first time. And to many of my nerd friends’ surprise, my favorite book in the series was “The Hobbit”. I loved Bilbo Baggins. I completely understood why he just wanted to stay in his cozy hobbit hole. But I also related to his sense of accomplishment for going out, having an adventure, finding treasure, killing a dragon and then coming back home again.
In college, I read “The Odyssey” and was riveted. (I think I read an abridged version in a high school literature class but it didn’t really stick with me the same way.) I realized the story is not so much about all of the adventures Odysseus had along his arduous journey but the fact that he was just trying to get home. (Or at least that’s how he tells the story. He did spend a really long time “stuck” at that sexy witch’s house.) His journey ends not once he has fought off his wife’s suitors and reclaimed his large mansion as his own. But it ends once he is back in his elderly father’s arms. That is when he has arrived Home.
After college, I moved back to Istanbul, Turkey because it felt the most like home to me of all of the places I had lived. And it was 2008 while America was in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. (An economic depression ironically brought on by problems in the housing market.) So I was happy to claim my “citizen of the world” card and live in a place where the economy was still humming along and there were jobs to be had.
My boyfriend at the time followed me there and proposed to me in a historic Byzantine church – once the home of Eastern Christianity. We got married in LA and with Odysseus in mind, as his wedding gift I gave him a brass compass inscribed with the words, “May you ever, always find your way home.” We decided to return to Istanbul for our first year of marriage because once again, it felt the most like home. And really, we had both decided that we felt like home to each other. I thought that from then on wherever he was would be my Home and I loved how romantic that all was.
After we had been married a year, we felt like maybe it was time to live on more than just love so we moved back to LA to actually pursue careers and build a physical home. I hoped that maybe I would finally have a little bit of the home I had always wanted. I now had my own little family and soon I would have my own house that we would make sure was large enough to have people over all the time and we would have the best dinners and gatherings.
Unfortunately that beautiful dream was short-lived. Though both of our careers flourished, our home plans did not. Just 3 and a half years after our wedding, my husband announced our marriage was over by moving everything he owned out of our little apartment. It still strikes me as more than a little poetic that the way I found out I was getting divorced was by discovering an empty home. It was and is confusing and sad but that is a much longer story for another time.
While I tried to figure out what to do next, I was welcomed into the new home of a dear single friend. She had just bought it the week before I moved in and the roommate she had lined up had backed out at the last minute so there was a place for me. I loved watching her set-up her home those first few months I was living there. It may seem an odd thing to find comforting as my own home was crumbling but it felt very hopeful and forward-looking and I needed hope wherever I could find it in those months.
I eventually got a cute apartment with my longtime best friend. Its selling point was the huge front patio where we could host parties. And we made it home in the extremely feminine way that only a house inhabited by two women can be. There are flowers and pastel colors throughout. There are teacups in the bookshelf and books in the china cabinet and as many potted plants as we can keep alive. It is not the house I always imagined or the way I imagined it but it is home for now in the way the many houses my mom made feel like home when I was growing up also did.
Last year I returned to Istanbul for a visit. It was the first time I had visited since my divorce and before I went, I was a little nervous about what it would feel like. There were parts of it that were hard and parts of it that were beautiful and there were parts of it that still feel like home. But there have also been a lot of changes since I called that city home.
The political and social climate has shifted dramatically in the 5 years since I lived there and much of the country is in an existential crisis searching for a new understanding of their home. Meanwhile, Turkey has become a temporary home for millions of Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have lost their own homes and will probably never get them back. The whole country now feels like they are all looking for an elusive home together. And that felt familiar and well, relatable.
I know it has become a Christian cliche to say and hear, “This world is not our home.” And unfortunately I think too often that phrase is used to dismiss rather than deal with injustice and pain and brokenness. But it is also true. I think in many ways, we are all searching for home. And I am sure I am not the only one who feels like I haven’t found it yet.
If all of those stories I loved taught me anything, it’s that a desire and yearning for home is deep in each of us. Maybe some of us find it in this world and some of us may not but we are all looking for it. And there is something about that that is encouraging.