Where is Home?
A few weeks ago I was able to watch Pico Iyer’s thought provoking TED Talk about “Where is Home” and it got me to thinking of my personal definition of home, where home is, and the difference between being away from home and long term traveling. I was born in the United States and, with the exception of a week or two away, I never spent much time outside of domestic borders. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see more but, like many other people in my situation, chasing the “American Dream” didn’t allow me much time away from making money and consuming things not very far away from where I began my life. I was curious, but too afraid to shake things up too much. Then opportunity came and, although at first a bit concerned and wary, I left and began traveling the world.
Now, as an expat and somewhat constant traveler people that live in the country of my birth assume that I am only temporarily away and that one day I will wake up and “come home”. As an American that has decided to move away, explore different places and concentrate more on making a life than on making a living I am often seen as slightly cracked. As one very incurious acquaintance once told me, “I don’t know why you want to go all those places. I have the best of everything right here.” Maybe he was right, but how did he actually know?
For a little perspective, according to Pico Iyer, there are now 220 million expats living in the world today. If they represented their own country, it would be the 5th most populous country on the planet. In large part the citizens of this fraternity are more mobile, more curious and more engaged with the world than has ever been possible. They would rather see the problems and beauty in the world firsthand than accept the secondhand information that comes to us through ever more conflicted and agenda driven media. As a group I have found these people to be more generous, empathetic and concerned about their fellow global citizens than any others. They are extremely diverse in their origin, background and economic levels, but while they may not share the blood of family, their experiences bind them in ways that only those who have broken ties with home as a physical location understand.
Despite the world’s heightened suspicion of America’s very outsized influence everywhere else and the evermore bellicose and racist rhetoric of some American politicians, I am, and I will always (usually proudly) be, an American. America is the place where most of my family lives and where I still pay my taxes but, where home is, is an entirely different matter. After thinking about it more and more, I am not sure that home is actually a place. Home, to me, is more a connection to people and ideas than it is to places. Yes, it is a huge world and sometimes it is difficult to maintain close connections with family and others that I care for, but I know people that live in the same cities as their relations and see them no more than I see of mine half a world away. To me, relationships are more about shared dreams and ideas that they are about proximity.
So, where is my home? After five years on the road I have discovered it isn’t a piece of land or anything else with my name on it. I live in different places and and travel a lot, but I never feel that I am truly away from home. Home feels like it is inside of me. There is a very wise saying that says, “home is where the heart is” and I can’t think of a better definition than that. That being the case, I guess I have to say home is everywhere — the world is my home.