Monday, December 4, 2017

has "home" found a place to rest its weary head?

My parents are there waving from the observation
deck of little Tri-Cities Airport.
I recently returned to France after a longer than expected State-side visit that makes counting time more complicated than ever. I've officially been residing in France for over five years now, but I just spent nearly a year in the US. However, I kept my apartment in France while I was away, so I technically still resided there, I think. Um, how exactly do I answer that question of how long I've been living in France?

The complicated answers don't stop there.

Because, you see, I've also stepped over a weird threshold that I unconsciously never expected to cross: my home-life--that life where I return at the end of my voyages to my normal day-to-day rhythms--is actually in France now. Not the U.S.

Oh, I've heard about other Americans who feel that home-feeling once they return to the non-American place where they live. But because I get around so much and because I didn't move abroad expecting to stay so long and because my everyday life is far from settled-feeling and because I'm adaptable and find home both everywhere and nowhere and because I know I'm not yet fully at ease in French daily life and because my work life keeps me well-connected to the US, well, I just didn't anticipate becoming one of those Americans.

But two things happened that announced to me that I have indeed crossed over.

Transitioning from airplane to train, with plenty
of luggage in tow to make things exciting.
First, a close French friend spent some time in the US while I was there. I was excited for this friend to experience part of my US life, part of what has made me what I am. And excited that there would now be someone in France who knows me-in-the-US in a way that seemed like it would add a wholeness to my French life. Except that instead, during the visit, I slowly realized that US life isn't my real life anymore; it's not the place where my day-to-day life takes place; it's not even really the place where I feel most at home anymore and where I'm most me. Instead, it's the place of memories and history; it's the stage on which my past life took place. It's a place where I can no longer remember the shortest ways to get anywhere. It's the place where I don't have people's phone numbers already stored in my phone. It's the place where you learn who really cares that you're back in town for a visit. It took having someone from my French life dropped into my US life to make the big reveal (you might as well know that for some reason I'm imagining a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat as the visual metaphor of this big reveal ;-) ). My US life is still a good place; it's just no longer my today-life.

And then after that big white rabbit got pulled out of the sturdy black hat, I returned to my home-du-jour after months away and discovered that maybe [enter the magician with yet another rabbit to pull out of yet another hat]--despite having to rediscover where I keep things in my apartment--this place is more than my home-du-jour now. I only officially lived in this town for not-quite-a-year before leaving for nearly as long as I'd been living here. But I've returned to a life. A place where I know where to buy my groceries, where I don't have to check Google maps in order to get everywhere, a place where I have friends who welcomed me back, a place where people see me as part of their everyday lives rather than just that old friend who's dropped into town for a couple days but whom they forget to invite to things because they're not used to that friend being on the invitation list.

For those who've never experienced all of this (I was one of you until recently!), this rabbit-exiting-hat reveal is weird. It's one of those internal dissonance experiences that you want to give order to and understand but you can't really. So I think you're just supposed to accept it and move on with life. Right? Something like that anyway.

And maybe most surprising of all in this big reveal is discovering that of all the home-places my life is still tied to (hence, feeling at home both everywhere and nowhere), I kind of actually feel like I have a home-home again. But it took going away for a while and returning--returning to life and community that are real and that exist--to discover this home. It's often in the comparisons that we measure things, isn't it. How do we know we're taller than we were last year? Because our pants are too short now or because we can now look over the top of Aunt Mary's head or because the mark on the wall from last year's measurement now reaches our chin.

Back to the sometimes-rainy streets of Pau.
Accustomed as I am to that home-is-everywhere-and-nowhere feeling, it is massively unexpected to have these first stirrings of feelings of having a home in a physical place again. While I try to dive deeply into life wherever I am at the moment, I'm used to sensing that in some way I'm always just passing through, because a nomad lives in my soul. And the reality is that because I can do my work from anywhere, and because I only have to give a month's notice to move out of my furnished apartment, and because I'm here at the whim-in-the-form-of-visas-that-must-be-renewed of the French government, I really don't know how long I'll live here.

But there's still something new that I'm experiencing in this physical place that is becoming home-home more than anywhere else in the world right now.

And as with any early blossoms of feeling, I'll be testing this one out for a little while. However long it ultimately lasts, for now there's something unexpectedly satisfying and centering at giving a name to that surprising white rabbit--#ithinkihaveahomenow. (What self-respecting magic-show rabbit doesn't add a hashtag to her name these days?)