What is home?

I began writing this post a couple of months ago. But here it is now, as complete as I know how to make it: I woke up earlier than planned this morning. Maybe I'm feeling the excitement of going "home."

Today is Memorial Day. We left home last Thursday to attend my wife's 15 year reunion at Oberlin College. It's been great getting to know some of her college friends and I've enjoyed the sense of nostalgia this weekend has evoked in me about my own college experience (since I have never attended my own college reunions). With all of that, I feel ready to go "home."

So again I reflect on the concept of "home." Of course there is that familiar cliche "home is where the heart is." Who could forget, "be it ever so humble, there's no place like home." (insert three heel clicks here) Daniel LaRusso awkwardly quipped in The Karate Kid II"home is where you hang your hat" (ironic because Daniel doesn't wear a hat at all in the three KK movies he stars in).

This question of "what is home?" really hit me as I left "home" for the holidays this past year. I was driving to the airport and listening to Trans Siberian Orchestra. On their The Christmas Attic album, they talk about going home. One lyric that exemplifies the concept from a song entitled Find Our Way Home: "I think I would be alright, if on this Christmas night, I could just find my way home."

Paul Simon's lyric "gee it's great to be back home...home is where I want to be..." evokes those nostalgic feelings of this ideal concept of "home" but it does not clarify "what is home?"

It seems to me that "home" is a fluid concept for some people.

Until recently, it was less fluid to me. You see, I have lived in Iowa my whole life. For me, Iowa is home. Some people claim their roots by where they are born. I was born in Iowa City. Interesting side story there...around the time I was going to be born, my mom's doctor went missing. Mom found out later that her doctor had been kidnapped at gunpoint by his ex-wife! She handcuffed him, threw him in a car and drove to Missouri. Now Mom's doctor...later my doctor, saw an opportunity to escape. They were in a parking lot, and he decided to jump out of the car and make a run for help. At this point, his ex-wife shot him in the leg! Did I mention that the man who was our family doctor for years is black? So here is a black man, handcuffed and bleeding from a gunshot wound, running through a parking lot in Missouri, in 1974...

I was lucky enough to be a patient of his for many years and even luckier that he was the county coroner who explained things to me with great compassion when my Mom left this life.

So instead of being born in Grinnell, 15 miles from the house I grew up in, I was born 50 miles away in Iowa City.

Is Iowa City "home" because I was born there? The house I spent the first 18 years of my life in Brooklyn...is that "home?"

My wife, Michelle, often claims her New Yorker roots. Born in Manhattan, and living in the city for the first two years of her life, then in suburbs at different times in the years that followed, she embodies the spirit of New York City. At least she embodies the perception that many Midwesterners might have of New Yorkers. That being said, my wife spent many years living in Ann Arbor, Michigan when she was growing up. She still has family in that area, and admits she often thinks of Ann Arbor as home.

I've lived in three different parts of this state during my 38 years. How long does one have to live somewhere for it to be considered "home?" I have limited experience with questions like these.

I decided to ask someone I've known for most of my life. We were on the front page of the local newspaper together in kindergarten with our Valentine's Day crowns on. We had adventures that kids growing up in small towns had and we wrestled with deep questions in elementary and junior high...the meaning of life and things that sort. Our junior year of high school, she was an exchange student in Denmark and that experience changed the course of her life. I asked her when she thinks of home, does she think of the small town we grew up in, or where she's lived in Denmark for many years:

Home is where the heart is! Short and sweet...I'm 37 and have lived in 16 different places in three different countries. I'm pretty much settled now- I hope! But this house is probably not the last place I will live.

Now that I have a family, my home will always be with them. When I was single about 10 years ago, I was living in Denmark but had an opportunity to live in Reykjavik, Iceland for several months in connection with my work. That Christmas my company offered to pay my plane ticket to go "home", and they didn't care if it was back to Denmark or to the USA. So I went "home" to Iowa for Christmas, back "home" to Reykjavik for New Year's and a few months later back "home" to Denmark!

My home is where my kids and husband are now...where I can relax, do and say as I please and "let my hair down." It's where I feel secure, at peace and comfortable.

I've found that it doesn't matter where I live, as long as I can come to my "hideout" and be who I want to be. After having moved so many times I've found that it's easier to keep personal possessions to a minimum, clean up in all the old junk regularly, but keep the relationships with friends and family at the top of the list of my priorities. They will always be there for me, and that's what counts.

It's always a weird feeling going back to Brooklyn. Some things change but mostly everything is still the same. I couldn't wait to get out of there, and I still wouldn't want to live there, but it's certainly not the worst place to have grown up! Brooklyn is still home, but mainly because of the family I still have there. If they weren't there, I probably wouldn't visit.

So, yes, home is where the heart (people you love) is!

By this point some of you may be wondering why I am so focused on this question. I had never really given it much thought until the holidays last year. Yes, I was spending the holidays with my then fiancée and her family, but I felt sadness since I was not with my children. Could I ever truly feel at home without all of the most important people in my life?

I am about to find out.

Soon I will be embarking on one of the greatest adventures of my life. I will be moving from my home state of 38 years, Iowa, to Portland, Oregon. I am going there to open a neurologic music therapy clinic with a friend. But here's the catch...I'm moving there alone.

Being a father of three children, a newlywed husband and a new stepfather, I have to wonder if Portland will ever feel like home. The people I love, my family, will be 1900 miles away. Can I find a home there?

We talk often in our Unitarian Universalist Society about how each of us found our spiritual home. When I move to Portland, I will have the option of attending any one of eight UU churches or fellowships within 25 miles of where I live. No matter where I end up, I think I will always consider the first UU church I attended as my spiritual home. The place that I found as my first marriage was ending. The place I found support and community as a newly divorced single parent; the place where my children first experienced open minded spirituality and witnessed love not bound by traditional gender roles. The place that embraced and nurtured my gifts. The place that I came to with Michelle and all of our children, the first day we met, for a drum circle.

I've even considered this question in regards to the GPS in my car. There is a feature that lets me enter a home address. Then, by pushing one button, the GPS will guide you home. Do I leave my current address in there, as a reminder of the place where my loved ones are? Or do I enter my new address...considering I'm not all that good with directions, especially in cities with many large hills, curvy roads and 2.2 million people, I may have to consider that decision carefully.

But I think in the end, the concept of home means different things to different people. What does it mean to you? How important is the actual space you live in compared to the people you surround yourself with? Those people can be blood relation, intentional family or friends. What makes a place "home" for you?

Is home where the heart is, or where you hang your hat? Is it where you let your hair down; your sanctuary where you do and say what you like?

Maybe it's something that you keep within you. Something intangible. Maybe it's the realization that even if you can't quite put your finger on it, even if you can never put into words exactly what "home" means to you, somehow you know when you're there.