A Reflection: The Long Journey To Find “Home”

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Today I was going to share a poem from way back. The poem is one of a series of poems I’ve come to know as “The Miami Poems.” I was stationed to do some work in Miami in my early twenties. There’s probably 10 poems that consist or are ‘what’s left,’ of the “Miami poems.” I started to write a little background of the poem and title and realized what I was really writing about was the idea of ‘home.’ The poem has nothing to do with this. In introducing the poem, I started to talk about the idea of ‘home.’ The idea of having this mythical place that is yours that you just know is ‘your place.’ I do love Miami. I sort of have this love/hate relationship with the state of Florida. It’s like I don’t want to love it, but I do. Growing up in WI it felt like everyone either went to Florida or Las Vegas on vacation. Granted, I don’t think most of the people traveling to FL when I was a kid had Miami as their FL destination, but I just sort of associated the state as ‘the place everyone goes.” Being that I was sort of an exotic kid, I wanted to want to go somewhere else. Although the first ‘big’ vacation I took was not until I was in 9th grade. We never had much money and my dad has never really been a traveler. My dad is one of those people that just loves where he is from, and I think he just is satisfied with what he has in Wisconsin. He does not love big cities. He finds his peace in northern WI, which is a very beautiful place if you have never been. I envy him in a lot of ways because I don’t know anyone so content and satisfied with where they grew up. We live in this culture of always wanting to ‘see more,’ ‘do more,’ etc. My dad just loves his hometown. It’s like he doesn’t need anything more. He takes the same drives, walks, and runs and continues to find beauty and joy in them. When I was younger, it frustrated me because I was born to live on the road. Now, after years of moving from city to city, I wish I had just a little bit of his ability to be satiated by where he is at. It definitely has advantages for him that my life will never know. Once you leave home and begin to see the world, I think, there’s a part of you that can never fully return. It’s what makes the scene at the end of The Lord of Rings so sad. Tolkien writes,

“There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, and tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?” 

Once you leave a place, it is never the same. You change, the people you left change, the place changes. Your life becomes scattered. Your friends are in each of the places you go to, but they will never be in the same spot. For me, home has been so many places now, anywhere could be home. Yes, there is always a hometown where I was born and raised, but it’s just as foreign to me as every other place. Eventually, the truth finds that people are home; however, the longer you’ve been gone, the lengthier the journey, the less you are the person you were when you left. Not only have you changed from your journey, but the people at home have too. They have not spent their time waiting for you to stroll back into town. They too have had their own journeys. It’s a devastating scene when Frodo returns and realizes his journey has changed him. He is no longer the same person that left the Shire. He has seen the world and while he was off on a grand adventure, the Shire did not stand still. My dad’s journey has been in his hometown. He has moved and grown with the landscape and architecture of the town. My journey has been with the world. Each has its own uniqueness. My dad never has to think about where home is. His friends, his life are all in one place. I have to wonder about it all the time. My friends and family are scattered all over. Joni Mitchell (as she tends to do) says it best in “Amelia”

The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets thru to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Of picture post card charms
Amelia it was just a false alarm

The first time I heard this verse, my life was not even remotely the travelogue it would become. I never imagined my life becoming ‘the travelogue’ it has become. Still, I heard it and I immediately knew the verse was me. I had not quite learned the lyrics she later sings, ‘as the road leads cursed and charmed.’ I was still being completely ‘charmed,’ but, honestly, I knew the last line, “Amelia it was a just a false alarm,” was full of a lot of truth. As I stated my first ‘big vacation,’ was to Disneyworld with my mom and aunt in ninth grade. I felt everyone had already been to Disney by the time I got there, but I was so happy to be there. We also went to Clearwater and stayed on the ocean. I waited (what felt like a lifetime) to see the ocean. My mom saw it with me for the first time on that trip. To this day, she still talks about falling asleep to the sound of waves outside the hotel screen door. Having seen and lived on coasts now, my heart still skips a little when she mentions how magical that was to her. I think back to how she lived her life full of wanderlust but never had the resources or opportunities. I think back to how amazing it was that she made that trip happen for me because she knew how bad I wanted it and what it must have felt like to be able to give me it and not only experience travel herself but to share it with her son. My dad and sister opted not to come with, as that is not who they are. My mom has wanderlust, but unlike me, my mom’s wanderlust was secondary to having a family. My mom has lived her whole life with her family as her top priority. In fact, after I graduated high school, my mom put two of the things she values most together and thought it appropriate to pay for my sister and I to be taken to New York together by my aunt. She, herself, paid and did not come. To my mom, it was more important that my sister and I share a travel experience together before we went off and started our own lives. She knew the power of travel and (true to my mom’s nature) the importance of family, as her siblings have always been among the most treasured individuals in her life. Yes, there are tons of poems too from that trip. It was my dream to live in Manhattan and be a writer at the time. It was a unique trip. On one hand, I think it cemented my wanderlust. On the other, I think it maybe depleted my sister’s love of travel. To this day, it remains the only trip my sister and I have ever been on. I knew from that first night in Manhattan that my life was going to be lived in many different places. It seems like from there, my life did take off. Every few years a new state, a new city, a new country… Where resources lacked, I found ways. The thing about living your life as a ‘travelogue,’ is that eventually the last line, “It was just a false alarm,” became more and more true. Places like love affairs broke my heart. Once so alive with promise, the every day would set in and the disappointment and realization of ‘another false alarm,’ would kick in. The more places accumulated, the more I found my identity spread out among them. There was no place where I completely new and saw myself as my dad did. Each place brought new joys, but it also left behind a trail of people and routines missed terribly. The kid that once could not understand my dad’s complete disinterest in seeing the world, found himself understanding how disciplined and present my dad had to be to not need anything other than what stood before him. My sister created a similar existence to my dad. They both love their hometown. They don’t like to be away for long. Leaving their hometown means leaving the comfortable group of friends that know every part of their lives, the memories that move through the backdrop of one place, the safety of being known and of knowing. It’s full of traditions timed and expected like the seasons. I can’t say I will ever regret the journey my life has become; however, it’s bittersweet. It truly is the last scene in the Lord of the Rings. You return after an epic journey, where you’ve fought hard in each experience, learning to trust yourself, learning to trust new companions, and so many things that scare you along the way. You return home changed, as you have let the world sculpt you, harden you, soften you at times. The thing is home is now a memory. It’s a feeling you had for a place long ago. The people have been living their lives, having their own adventures, changing, and you have had yours. They cannot explain to you all that you missed and you cannot explain to them all that has shaped you, challenged you, and changed you. They will never know those dreams of aviation and you can only speculate what it’s like to have stayed on the same ground. The road is ‘cursed and charmed,’ Joni gets another one right. I truly was just going to introduce and post a poem from the ten or so poems, I’ve always referred to as “The Miami Poems,” (none of them really about my life or experiences in Miami- all just written there), it just brought up one of the truths of my life. My writing is one of the few places where I am not scattered about. The poems truly are this sort of home to me. I know I knew them when…. Most of them are not even about the time they’re written or experiences happening during that time. Still, they’re a collective for me, a familiar place, a backdrop for my narrative. In some ways, they are home.

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