"We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” (Pascal Mercier, Night Train to Lisbon)
When I was ten years old, my family moved to Israel for my dad's job. At first I looked forward to the move as an adventure, and I knew we'd be back in America in three years, so I didn't anticipate how much I'd miss the only home I'd ever known once I got there. 'Culture shock' doesn't begin to describe my experience on arriving in Israel; the climate, the people, the language, the food, the school, the international diplomatic community we found ourselves a part of were all very alien to me. Our school had students from over 100 countries, which made me feel completely insignificant and ignorant. Everyone seemed to know about history and politics and religion, had lived in many places before and already knew they'd move to another new land after this post, and I quickly realized I had to abandon my thoroughly American worldview if I wanted to understand the new, much bigger world I occupied.
I stubbornly held on to my notions of home, and the beautiful house we lived in didn't match up. In the way of a child, I was determined not to call our house 'home', as if using the word itself meant I was somehow betraying my previous home. I'd say things like, 'It's time to go back to the house,' or 'My bike is in the garage at the house'. If any of my family members noticed this, they didn't say anything. They respected my need to hold on to something I valued, even if it meant I might be missing out on this new, amazing experience, until I found my place there.
Words have power, and so do intentions. Looking back, I wish I hadn't wasted any time resisting building a home there. Breaking down resistence takes effort, and depending on how good you are at building walls around your heart, it can take real work to be able to let anything in, not just the thing you are trying to keep out. The end result is often lonliness. I'd say now as an adult I am the exact opposite; I try to have an open heart, I'm told I am actually too quick to believe I'm close to someone or something, and when that happens there is lonliness, too - but I can at least say it was a result of seeking love, friendship and belonging, and not of holding myself back.
I have no idea when I stopped avoiding using the word 'home' and started truly loving our home and Israel. We made memories there, we celebrated family milestones - including my father's 50th birthday, my sister's engagement and the birth of my nephew - we gathered around the phone twice a year for precious calls home to family, we hosted visiting diplomats, we traveled around the country, seeing as much as we could during our short time there, and returned home each time with feelings of relief and contentment and belonging. I discovered a-ha in 1986, after my parents gave me a boom box for my birthday. I would stay up late to listen to the International Top 40, which included 'Train of Thought' in spring 1986. (I didn't hear 'Take On Me' until I returned to America months later and bought 'Hunting High and Low' on cassette with babysitting money, and I didn't see the video until fall 1986, right before 'Scoundrel Days' came out and I had tickets to see the band in concert.) That association of discovering a-ha while living in Israel is still very powerful for me.
Leaving Israel turned out to be even more difficult than leaving America had been. I knew then that I had two homes, and had to say goodbye to one perhaps for many years. As the quote above says, I left behind a part of myself, which I have yet to find again. Without a doubt my time in Israel made me who I am, and I deeply cherish my friendships from that time.
All this to say that home is very much a place, and that the bonds we have with our homes over a lifetime are a beautiful and important part of human nature. I leave a piece of myself in Norway whenever I leave, it is a kind of home for me. London has that effect as well. I long to return to Edinburgh, I could actually see myself living there - just based on a five day weekend spent there 13 years ago. Sometimes home is even a hotel room I stay in for a short while. I try to appreciate that experience and I attempt to seek and build home wherever I go. Then when I return somewhere that holds a place in my heart, I feel a wonderful contentment that can only be described as 'home', because I have reclaimed that part of myself I have left behind.
There are many different ways to define 'home'. Yes, home is a feeling and home can be a bond with a person (more on that later), but in the end we have only ourselves - so it's important to try to build and experience 'home' whenever and wherever we can. This is one reason why 'This is our home' is so wonderful to me: the feeling of belonging and wholeness and quiet joy we experience in a place is because of the history we share with it.