Where is Home?


The first time I met Shayla in her kitchen, August 2013

As many others in recovery, I spent a good bit of my active addiction taking geographic cures throughout the US – for myself this primarily meant a host of locations in the Upper Midwest and Deep South.  Over the past 30 years of recovery I have also spent a good bit of time making pilgrimages of sorts to many of these locations, looking for I am not certain what.  On those trips I have had a bunch of insights.  For example, if you want to really experience the perspective of being a kid in the old neighborhood, trying riding a bicycle down those streets instead of viewing everything from the middle of the road in a car!

I attended a family event a bunch of years ago in my hometown – or not really my hometown, but the suburb where everyone escaped from the working class A-frame urban decay of my youth.  Someone said to me “Welcome Home” to which I immediately responded, “This is not my home.  I live in Louisiana.”  And the fact is, if there is one place where I feel most free, most secure, most alive, it has always been on the streets of New Orleans – my part-time soon to be full-time residence.

But I have been thinking about this concept of “Where is home?” for quite a while now.  I bought Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again but have yet to get past the first page of the 600 plus page tome.

My colleague from Peru is living with us for two years in her first adventure outside her native country.  During her first week in the US, when we went to the Hispanic market and I showed her tangerines with “Peru” labels on them her eyes filled with tears.  A year later we were in the same market and found that on a bottom shelf of the aisle where Inka Cola is stocked, packages of purple corn for making chicha morado and bags of trigo that we had made a special trip to the mercado in Lima to bring to the states for soup making.  Once again, she was ecstatic to find a bit more of her home in Memphis, Tennessee.

I asked her when we were driving recently, when she felt the most homesick.  She said when she knew she was missing family events, or certain foods, and friends.

I reflected on that question as well – but wondered the place I felt homesick for – and realized that was actually the wrong question – it is not a place.  I am homesick for spending more time with my wife as I will not join her in New Orleans full-time until I retire next summer.  But I have also thought about my recent years of spending time in Peru and realize I am homesick, less for the physical place, but as my colleague notes, the people, events, and food.  Perhaps the most “homesick” I feel is for the daily meals at Shayla’s in Hualcayán.  The place is a large room with a dirt floor, adobe-type walls, sitting on plastic stools, and eating from tables of plywood on top of sawhorses.  The food is good, but mostly it is a time to spend time visiting with extended family and friends who happen by – drinking tea after meals.  Here is where I learned the satisfaction of just drinking hot water to have something warm to hold in your hands and drink on a cold winter night.

So home, like serenity, and recovery are more about relationships and states of mind – the physical spaces become irrelevant.