Under the surface
I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
~ Maya Angelou
"What does it mean to live in the world? Don't we all live in the world?"
This was a question posed to me during a recent podcast interview. I don't recall the exact words, but my answer was something about "living in the world" being a more glamorous way of saying that I'm homeless. I talked about my decision to leave behind the life I knew to travel and to live the life I knew was possible. Becoming a vagabond felt like an important part of my narrative, a part of my identity that makes me interesting and inspiring.
Perhaps that's why I was hesitant to use the word home when I moved in with my boyfriend at the end of June. I'd been living with him since March, when the governor of California had declared a "shelter in place" order and my contract job had transitioned to remote work. Then, my job ended and he invited me to stay. It was an easy 'Yes' for me. I love him and enjoy sharing my day-to-day life with him.
At first, I left most of my belongings in storage and told myself that I didn't want to make him feel overwhelmed. I was mindful of the fact that it was his house. I wanted to be respectful and considerate since I knew this was a big change for both of us. And I noticed that I felt strange calling 'his place' my 'home'. I wondered why...
One afternoon, I nervously asked him if he would mind if I called this my home. He seemed surprised that I asked and reassured me that this was my home.
So why did this word that should make me feel settled still feel unsettling?
I stepped into the word and felt it wash over me. In doing so, I noticed that I'd become attached to my identity as a nomad, a free spirit who "lived in the world." I wanted others to see me as brave and adventurous. I'd worked hard and given up much to leave behind a life that I'd labeled as ordinary. I'd wanted to do something extraordinary. To be extraordinary. Was I giving up on my dreams? Had it all just been an extended vacation?
I dove underneath the surface of those questions and found myself submersed in deeper fears. A couple of years ago, I walked away from a place I called home because I longed to claim my freedom. Freedom to travel. Freedom to write. Freedom to move. Freedom to be still. Freedom to break away from the stories about who I was supposed to be, and just be. It seemed like it was easier to feel free if I wasn't constrained by location, but was it?
I took a deep breath and dove deeper still. Here it was, my deepest fear. My body trembled from the cold and my heart ached from the darkness of it. What if I got used to feeling comfortable and safe? What if I allowed myself to be at home somewhere, only to have everything change again? The thought of having to pack up my belongings and leave behind home again is frightening and sad. But the truth is, I would be just as heartbroken to leave now, even if I never called this my home. I want to make this my home and I want to be here with him.
I miss the home that I shared with my daughters in California. I miss seeing them each day and watching them do dishes together and decorating the house for Christmas. I also miss traveling, especially settling into a little apartment in a foreign place and walking into town each day to buy groceries. I enjoyed learning the language and creating a small altar in each place I stayed to support my practices and make it feel like home while I was there. But now I am home again. Here. And it feels good.
So, I rise to the surface and climb onto the shore, looking back at the pool of my fears and seeing myself reflected there. Just a reflection. Underneath the surface are all of the stories I tell myself about freedom, and impermanence, and how others see me. I'll undoubtedly come back and swim here again. I always do, but it's nice to climb out and remember that I am not the stories that I immerse myself in.
I am brave. I am adventurous. And I'm able to step out of my stories, dry myself off, and feel my freedom to choose in each moment. Choose to travel, to write, to love and be loved. Choose to unpack my things, set up a new altar, and make this my home.