Widgets Magazine


Alternative Living…Without the Naked: On Being Home

I’m back from Paris, and it feels good. While I do miss waking up to freshly baked, chocolate-lined croissants and teacups of milky coffee, it is hard to counter the comforts of finally being here. Here, there is no pressing rush of a city, nor is there that desire to see everything I can, to visit all the three thousand cafés I want to or spend my hours in famous museums. While I was lucky to have been in Paris, I’m perhaps even luckier to return to a place that feels like home.

It is strange to think of what makes a home. This morning, I woke up in my bed, just lying there for a while, tucked into the familiar smell of my sheets and the warmth of the six layers of covers that I like to curl up under. Sun was actually coming in through the window overhead, and there was a distant sound of birds. I walked down the stairs, and in the kitchen was a stretch of homemade pretzels, covered in giant sugar crystals and cinnamon. They were neither bite-sized nor delicate. I devoured one. The chunky lump sat in my belly like a giant rock of awesomeness, and despite my 8:23 am jetlag, I felt extremely content.

Life, in short, has been good these past few days, and I have been surprised by the things I have missed. I never really thought about what exactly created that sense of belonging for me, and coming back, it was exciting to find out what I really enjoyed before without realizing it.

The first meal I had coming back, for example, was In-N-Out. After much whining, cajoling, and bursting into rooms, I finally got my friend Conor to drive me the tortuous, heartbreaking distance that separated us from my favorite fast food chain. While my order of choice is usually a Double-Double, animal style fries and a Neapolitan milkshake – inducing a food coma lasing several hours – this time, I stuck to a plain cheeseburger.

It only took one bite for the burger to get to my head, and so much of the hit was not in the taste. The sense of familiarity, more than anything else, made the cheeseburger so much better. I remembered all the times I ate unhealthy burgers out of a paper carton in a car, listened to bad Top 40 hip-hop on the radio, or mindlessly watched people in sloppy tracksuits lumber in parking lots, holding positively extravagant numbers of Walmart plastic bags. I remembered the Californian sunshine, of putting my feet up on car seats and getting yelled at by picky friends. And perhaps, in that second, an exhaustive list of all the things that made Stanford home for me was encapsulated in a drippy, cheesy bite of toasted burger.

This strange power of memory and nostalgia has made the past few days a constant surprise, and I foresee this sense continuing at least for the coming week. I enjoy sitting back and just looking at the things that just make me happy – and feeling surprised that they do. In a sense, I feel that I appreciate everything more, coming back. It is a well-known cliché that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in some sense I am in the process of understanding what it means.

I don’t feel like I am in a place to question other people’s sense of belonging. To do so would feel too much like being a quack guru, twisted up in a lotus pose, wearing strings of beads from an overpriced ethnic-themed store and asking, a bit too keenly, “What makes your sense of…home?” At the same time, I do believe that it is important to question our environment and surroundings, to know what creates meaning for us, or simply a sense of belonging. Some of my homesick friends described their need for giant coffee mugs, while others were more attached to intangibles, like smells or certain feelings. One thing I certainly missed was the freedom to visit people in their rooms – something restricted by the fact that we mostly lived with host families in Paris.

The act of missing, I once told my friends, is hardly a weakness. It can if it becomes debilitating, and takes away an ability to find happiness in the present. At the same time, I find the act a nice indicator that something important has been created, something that we carry with us and notice only when it is gone.

The implications of this, I think, are important. Imagining a permanent removal of the important things around me frightens me enough that I feel compelled to appreciate them, right here and now. After all, I sometimes go through days being grumpy and spending my days snoozing and doing nothing. I think maybe that should change, and there should be some appreciation going on, preferably involving cuddles, home cooked food, and everything that has been missing from my life in the past three months.
Tell Sam what makes home home at samtoh@stanford.edu…even if that does make her a quack guru.