Home (in My Own Skin)

I feel like I’m on a constant search for home—for “homeness,” that feeling of belonging, of alignment. That resonance that says, “Yes, I’m here.”

I feel that “homeness” more with people than with places. After a long dinner and longer conversation with a friend. After a long walk with someone when we’ve both allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. Or sometimes it’s just a look or a hug that makes me think, “You’ve come this way before.”

I’ve felt it in a few places—Korea, Ireland, New Orleans. I’ve often tried to figure out where it comes from. The loving community I have? A kinship in spirit with others around me? Similar personality types? Freedom? Love?

I can’t pinpoint it, and thus, I am always on the search.

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I left Illinois at age 13 after growing up there all my childhood. My family lived on a ten-acre farm in the country, and I remember climbing trees and watching clouds and swimming in the creek out back, catching crawdads and scooping up mud with my hands. I wonder if my sense of displacement comes from moving across the country to North Carolina as a teenager. If I learned then that nothing is permanent. If I learned that even “home” is not permanent.

Maybe I’ve been searching ever since.

Or maybe it’s me. Maybe as I’ve grown older, I’ve recognized all the ways I don’t fit. Or I didn’t feel at home in my own skin—so how could I feel at home in a place?

I used to joke that I felt so comfortable in Korea because in the US, I felt like I didn’t fit in but was supposed to, while in Asia, I couldn’t even try to fit in (as a white, English-speaking American), but no one expected me to. As if, by removing that expectation of belonging, I could finally belong. I filled the role laid out for me: foreigner, oegukin, outsider.

In fact, I just returned from my last visit to Yeosu, my Korean “hometown” where my homestay family is from and where I first became acclimated to Korean life in 2006. I visited old friends and celebrated birthdays over wine and cheese (and sushi). I stopped by the high school where I taught and was greeted with more kindness than I could’ve ever expected. I helped my homestay mom at her restaurant on a busy night and went with her to church (where a rumor quickly spread that I was my homestay sister’s boyfriend). I joined in with my homestay aunt’s contagious laughter and helped my homestay mom pick out her Sunday church-going outfit. I listened intently as my homestay father, a man of very few words, told me in Korean that I will always be my homestay sister’s 언니 (older sister), no matter where I am or what I’m doing.

There was something about being there that made me feel a part of things–made me feel loved. And made it hard to say goodbye.

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Certainly, Korea is one of my homes, and one I am leaving again soon. Another round of goodbyes, but like so many others, I know this won’t be forever. Korea will always hold a place in my heart, will always be a part of me, and will always be something I come back to, no matter where I am.

But I also know that “home” is far more than a place. That “home,” for me, reaches beyond Korea or Yeosu or all I’ve been and have here.

Before (3rd grade) and after, circa 2015. (Let’s not worry about those years in between right now.)

I was talking with a friend about this the other day, and we discussed whether “home” could be a metaphysical space–something within, something beyond. And as I’ve grown more and more accustomed to myself over the last few years, it makes me I wonder if I can create a home for myself in my heart—where I’ll always be loved and accepted. Or maybe I’ll find a greater sense of home on this journey. Or maybe the journey will be my home.

No matter where I’ve been or lived, I’ve often heard an inner voice say, “I want to go home.” I hope one day, I’ll understand what that means.

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