Those of us walking through our lives at anything less than monk-hood consciousness aren’t always aware of what we appreciate until we no longer have it. Maintaining an all encompassing appreciation all of the time would be life consuming. Most of us find it easier to take designated moments to appreciate the things that make us happy. The easiest moment to do this: Thanksgiving dinner. The check list comes out, but how do we know what should really be receiving the true internal source of gratitude?
Home is one of the deep seated human constructs that is often grossly underappreciated. We don’t even always know what part of our home has brought us happiness until we’ve left it. Homes are a confusing place. My best friend said in her wedding vows that ‘home’ was with her new husband. Sometimes we grit our teeth thinking about going home, or what is waiting for us when we get home. Sometimes we daydream all day about getting back there, to that place. Some people have no physical location to call a home. And what’s special about home anyway? They’re all over the place. Home base, home page, home improvement stores. Can stores really improve our homes?
I moved away from my home in Santa Cruz to a very quiet bend of the Smith River, a good 450 miles away. My new house is different. The conditions of my life are somewhat different. I thought I missed Santa Cruz home, but I also missed my ‘home’ in the Sierra, where I spend much of my summers climbing. I missed my ‘home’ surf break. But every time I drive north back from a visit to Santa Cruz I find myself relaxing in the thought of knowing the things I like about my home on the Smith River will be there for me upon return. Home starts to feel like the milky way on clear nights and the rushing sound of the river rising after a big rain. I get excited about seeing the seasons change in my new home.
A friend on the Smith River said to me one day at his house, “It would be fun to see you in your home territory.” I was stumped, almost to a panic. In a nervous laugh I replied, “And where would that be?” For a fraction of a second I actually thought he was going to reveal the secret to my dilemma about where ‘home’ was so that I could go there and find my singular happiness. His reaction to my own was just as stunned. He had been talking about Santa Cruz, of course, where the house I used to live in is. It was then that I knew I was truly confused and borderline conflicted about not only where my home was but what my home was supposed to be.
David, an old friend of my late father, lives in China. He’s an exuberant man in his 80’s who still travels across the world every year to visit us here in his home land. One year, after telling him at each of his visits that I would come to China, I actually did go to China. Our meeting point was in the big city of Chengdu where he welcomed us to his ‘home’ corner booth at an American style restaurant owned by a Chinese friend of his. He seemed just as jovial and comfortable as always. A few days later we took an overnight train to Xichang where his fifth floor apartment would be home for a few days more. We had discussions late into the night, topics covering religion, philosophy and his many travels around the world. Everywhere he went he seemed to be totally at home and completely unbothered by things unfamiliar.
I move around a lot, but I don’t move homes very much; only a handful of times in my whole life really. So naturally I’ve been getting confused between what is home for me, and what is simply familiarity. I’m not convinced that a place, nor the people, need be completely familiar for one to feel at home, though it certainly helps.
Looking back to one of David’s last visits while I was in Santa Cruz I remembered a moment that I now greatly appreciate. I didn’t know it would mean so much when he said it to me, but sometimes it takes a while to find the meaning in simple things. Upon arriving at our house, I invited him to make himself at home, he grinned and said, “Thank you, I am always at home wherever I go.”