I Feel Home

Well, it’s certainly been a weird few months, not just with the whole pandemic (which, looking back, when you take into consideration that it reached us just a month and a half after I moved to a brand-new, super-explorable new city, feels a bit like a personal attack), but also all the social unrest surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement combined with the general entitlement having to wear a mask has unearthed. We seem on the precipice of something. A complete social reset seems both like it’s imminent and a pipe dream; I don’t know that we’re riding the wave to Armageddon just yet, but I’m all stocked up on Animal Crackers if that’s the case.

Very specific Ben Affleck-centered jokes aside, I took a little break from writing here because reading the news and going onto social media in any capacity had been leaving me with a pit in my stomach. Since I can’t really quit spending time on the internet due to the nature of my job and can’t really quit monitoring the news for the same reason, this is where I decided to unplug; it also felt weird to blog about breweries, hikes, and quarantine reading recommendations with all the shit going on.

I’m back though. The allure of sharing my every thought with the internet won over the feelings of weirdness. You’re welcome.

I do pretty well when left to my own devices, which is to say that at its onset, quarantine didn’t get me down the way it did with so many other people. I’m someone who loves to do nothing, but also suffers from extreme FOMO, and so the fact that I got to do nothing but miss out on nothing was a real gift. I didn’t do as much nothing as those in PA, New York, and New Jersey though, where the bulk of my friends and family reside. I’ve hiked, ordered out, and got take-out growlers in the depths of quarantine, and started to explore this new home of mine as things slowly start opening.

Because of my proximity to good hiking, and not-as-strict shelter in place laws, many times during the pandemic I felt thankful I made this move. The aforementioned racial tension and general disregard for human life has also underscored that maybe I’ve found myself exactly where I need to be. It’s also underscored something that’s rocked me more than I’d like to admit: I don’t know that I miss home.

This might not seem like a huge deal to some of you. Plenty of people leave home after high school or college and never look back. Plenty of people never feel home where they grow up. I’ve never been one of those people. I was someone who actively enjoyed growing up where I did. I actively liked my high school experience. I’m still friends with a lot of the people I grew up with, and despite being someone who did move away from “home” for periods, I  went back and visited often, and even in professional endeavors used where I was from as part of my identity. I’ve detailed before how I’d been ready to move on, but I always thought I’d miss home, I’d be excited to return, and that it’d  always feel special to me.

I’d never been naive to the fact that there’s a lot wrong with where I grew up, that I had the positive experiences I did because of the family and socioeconomic circumstances I was born into. Then there’s the whole everywhere is awful if you really pick it apart, and I don’t even know that I deem home fully awful just yet. I think Northeastern PA could redeem itself, but that’s going to take some work. I just think I never was forced to really stare NEPA’s issues in the face as hard as I am right now.

At first what I thought home was suffering from was a real lack of empathy based on both the  social media responses to mask wearing and racial injustices, the latter of which was much more upsetting to digest. Now, I’m a grown adult who knows to take what you see on social media with a grain of salt and not let it completely shape my worldview. I also know that social media gives people the balls to put in writing what they’ve always been too polite to say. I know the disdain and hate being expressed so openly now has always been alive and well at home, always simmering under the surface. It’s not a lack of empathy home suffers from. It’s a fear of anything that doesn’t fit into a carefully constructed “the way things are.” It’s deeply ingrained and that’s always been the case. I’ve always known it deep down, but white privilege is real, and thus a shield I used to never have to confront this reality.

My parents came down to visit for the Fourth of July and stayed for a week. They did it responsibly, self quarantining before and after, and we made sure to use the proper precautions etc., etc. It was a great visit. We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway, explored the open breweries, had a ton of great meals, kayaked the French Broad, golfed at the Mount Mitchell Country Club, finally visited The Biltmore, and spent a lot of nights just hanging out on my patio. I’d missed them, and found myself very melancholy on my drive to work the morning I said goodbye. I’d talked with them both separately while they were here, and expressed how this current climate was underscoring that I can never go back home, to visit sure, but never permanently, not with what was being put out in the open.

Though I never said outright that I didn’t miss home, I think they understood why I don’t. I think they understand my reunion with them was in a way, a catalyst that brought me to that conclusion, because it’s them, the people I love and care about, who are what I miss most about home, the place, and I think what hammered home that I don’t miss home, the place, is that when they were here, much like that classic OAR song, I felt home. Places are superfluous to a degree. I’m not saying anything groundbreaking here. I’m not saying anything that a lot of other people have probably already figured out or have put more eloquently. But this is my blog. This is my journey, and I’m learning at 34 that home at the very base is simply where the people I love are. Maybe that’s in my childhood home this Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s on my new patio in Asheville with my parents. Maybe it’s the bi-weekly Zoom happy hours my college friends and I have been partaking in. And that makes not missing Northeast PA a little bit easier to swallow for a guy like me.

Because I’m nostalgic. Because I like places. They may be superfluous, but I’m the superfluous guy who’s running his second place-based blog. And there are places you end up feeling more comfortable, more accepted, and that embrace change, embrace a worldview where coloring outside the lines is just fine, embrace empathy and aren’t married to “the way things are.” Sometimes you outgrow places, but if you’re lucky, you don’t outgrow the people that made those places special.

That’s enough soul searching for today. It was cathartic to get out. I’ll be back to posting regular content as semi-regularly as I can now, and promise it won’t all be as navel gazing as this. The proof? Next up I’m tackling Big Foot.

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