Why do the places that we call home mean so much to us? Why does it matter what homes we buy, how we decorate them, and what belongings we fill them with? Why does sentimentality sometimes scream louder than reason, demanding that we hold on to possessions that we no longer have room for? Or spend too much money on a house that we love, that we can no longer afford? Why do separating spouses wage legal battles over who keeps the living room sofa and who keeps the dining room table? Why does our known idea of home matter so much that we cannot conceive of redefining it in a new place or in a new way?
Perhaps it’s the same reason why co-workers passive-aggressively fight over who gets what cubicle, why travelers fight over who gets which seat in a long car ride, and why the first thing a child wants to do when welcoming a new friend into his home is to show off his bedroom.
Perhaps it is because we are all fighting to carve out our own place in the world.
More than 7.1 billion of us are all sharing the same world. Is it inconceivable that on some endemic, innate level, we all have a desire for a place to call our own? That feels like our own? That protects us, and shelters us, and gives us a feeling of safety from everyone and everything else surrounding us?
Animals fight for their own homes and their own territories. The hippopotamus is one of the world’s most aggressively dangerous territorial animals on the planet. It will fight to the death for possession over a watering hole, fighting against crocodiles, alligators, and other hippopotamuses. Are we really that dissimilar? Do we not all feel territorial and possessive over the places we call our own? Do we not all crave our own, solitary watering hole that belongs to only us?
I have cried over the idea of moving from a home I loved several times in my life. I have mourned the thought of moving, cried while in the process of moving, and sobbed with homesickness for the walls left behind. Each time I have learned to adapt to a new idea of home, and eventually, tears have stopped, habits have settled, and life has carried on. It is the transition that is tortuous. It is the transitory state of being lost somewhere in between what is known and familiar, and what is unchartered and alien that moves us to frightened tears.
During my life’s most recent home migration, I found myself struggling between crying fits to understand what exactly had rendered me so inconsolable. Was it knowing I was leaving behind the perfectly remodeled bathroom that we had labored over that left me stricken with grief? Was it the kitchen that had been painstakingly organized just to my liking that I would miss the most? Was it the view of the constellations on a clear night sky that I just wouldn’t be able to glean from inside city limits?
I queried the ache in my chest with each question to see where it panged the hardest at each thought.
Certainly I could organize any new kitchen, and certainly I was not such a diva that I could not adapt to a smaller, less efficient bathroom, and certainly one could never own dominion over the night sky. How could I be so ungrateful to lament my perceived misfortune when millions of humans across the world go homeless and hungry ever day? Why couldn’t I be satisfied and appreciative that I even had an opportunity to choose a home, no matter where it was? What was the true origin of my distress?
I peeled back the veneer of materialism in my mind. If a house was just walls and and an address was just numbers, what was it that made these tangible instruments possess the intangible sense of home.
I searched my mind for the most salient memories that I had built while living in the place I was desperately clinging to as “home,” and found that it was not the layout of the house, or the convenience of the location, or the quality of the fixtures that would define the memories that I would long for the most after driving away.
The memories that brought tears welling to my eyes were not those of things. They were of people. They were of celebrating life’s defining moments and celebrating them together. They were of New Year’s Eves in front of the television, counting down until the start of a new year with one another. They were of Monday evenings after a long day of work, cooking over the stove and talking over work challenges and accomplishments together. They were of lazy Saturday mornings drinking coffee and and sitting on the deck together, making plans for the weekend. They were of friends visiting from out of town, and the last time my Mother visited before she was lost to us.
Perhaps that is what separates us from the lone, solitary animals who are simply trying to carve out a piece of land to reign over. It is the sense of connection with family and friends that defines our home, and that makes us want to fight for our place in the world.
The thing about people, about the people who truly matter, and who truly love us, is that they are transportable. The relationships that you truly value will move with you. When I considered this, I realized that I was not truly leaving my home behind. I was taking it with me. Nothing would ever take away the memories that we shared in the place where we had been, but maybe more importantly, was the opportunity to create new memories somewhere else, and to do it together.