Years ago at a slam poetry event in my hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota, I heard my favorite description of home. A brilliant poet who I cannot remember proclaimed, “Home is where people know your stories.”
Home is not necessarily a place from which you hail; it can often be a shared fundamental experience. Home is being around people, places, and things that understand what has shaped you into the person you are today. Our hometown shapes our early experience of the world so when we return, people whose worldview was shaped by the same environment surround us, and it feels like home. Similarly we find home amongst people who shared in, or at least witness the experiences that define us. I don’t need to explain to my brother why his feet are sticking to the floor of my apartment because he experienced the same obsessively clean mother, and he just gets why I am the way that I am.
I have never been to Austin, Texas, but I recently flew there to experience a slice of home. I met eleven of my oldest friends for a bachelor party and much needed reunion. When we get together anywhere, I feel more at home than I would in my childhood bedroom. When we get together, I feel my soul shed the masks I don throughout my life to fit into society. We immediately fall into the truest form of ourselves without filter or hesitation.
Gathering with old friend exhilarates anyone, but there is a common pattern. We are close with people, we lose touch, and then when we see them again, we fall back into the patterns of behavior from an earlier time in our lives. We fall back into old jokes, old stories, old habits, old desires, and even old mannerisms. We all enjoy this, who wouldn’t want to feel young again at least for a weekend? But when we fall back into old patterns with people who are no longer pivotal in our lives, we are playing a role the same way we do in a corporate sales meeting or talking to a clergyman. You are acting as one part of yourself representing the whole, and not the full unadulterated self.
Our group differs in how we have stayed in touch. Since the day we went off to college, we started a Facebook thread and have all participated every single day. In essence, we have had a running dialogue happening in our pocket for the last eight years. While we physically moved apart, we have grown incredibly close having shared any significant event with the support system we all carry in our pockets. We have helped each other through death, disease, relationships, breakups, cheating girlfriends, medical scares, triumphs, failures, love, hate, tears, laughter, and even one instance of accidentally pooping on the carpet.
A weekend in strange city made me feel more at home than my childhood bedroom. Why? This group has stayed together; we have stayed relevant in each other’s lives. We bare witness to the moments that continue to shape us. When we get together we are not falling into old patterns, we are surrounded by a group that knows us for exactly who we are today, with the perspective to know where we have come from. This experience has taught me that feeling at home takes work.
I cannot truly experience home if I do not have the courage to share my life with the people I care about. If I get lazy and stop making the effort to include my close friends in the continuing experiences that shape who I am becoming, I will lose a home.
It is ok to lose touch. We all do. It is ok to make new friends in new phases of life. We all do. Those new friend will learn about the younger you, but they will never really fully understand. Rare are the people who have a longitudinal view of your life. They are the people who watched you become who you are. Keeping them in your life is important and takes effort. You can always meet new people, but there are only so many people who saw you become the way you are. These are the people who will never have to ask, ‘Why?’
If you take the time and care enough to continue contributing to those relationships, you will always have a home… at least to visit for a long weekend in Austin.