Where is Home?

The last few weeks of forced confinement, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to stay connected to the people I love. Instead of feeling isolated, can I make my being at home an integral part of being in the world?

The topic of home and connection has been in my mind, however, for much longer than a few weeks. Last summer, my husband and I traveled to the North of Spain in search of our home. I don’t mean that we went shopping for a house. We were seeking that mythical place where we would feel an immediate affinity and could see ourselves moving into.

We currently live in a beautiful neighborhood, surrounded by old growth trees, parks, and mountains, but our house is big and expensive to maintain. Downsizing is a key component of our future retirement plan, as well as good for the environment.

We’d heard from several people that Santander, a medium size city in the North, was an ideal place to live. We arrived with high hopes and Santander didn’t disappoint. It’s located in a gorgeous bay, the people are warm, it’s affordable, the lifestyle is easygoing, and the food is phenomenal. We loved it, but it didn’t feel like home. It was a bit too provincial — no live music to speak of, for example, which is a must for my husband — and too far from a bigger metropolis with a lively cultural scene.

But what really got to us was this: We didn’t know a soul in Santander. We tried to imagine ourselves starting there from scratch, and we couldn’t.

We realized that what makes a place feel like home is the community that surrounds you.It doesn’t mean you cannot build a new community in a place you move into — as an immigrant, I know that it’s possible and enriching to do so. But it takes time, and making deep friendships becomes a little harder as you age.

In this time of pandemic-driven anxiety, the importance of a warm, strong community around us has become clearer than ever. Although I can’t get physically close to my friends and neighbors, I know that if I get sick, I can count on them dropping off groceries and medicines at my doorstep. And I would do the same for them. Connection through social media is important — it’s a way to show up, support and uplift your larger community —, but it cannot substitute the deep links you build with those closest to you.

As Brené Brown says:

“Living a connected life is ultimately about setting boundaries, spending less time hustling and winning over people who don’t matter and seeing the value of working on cultivating connection with family and friends.”

My husband and I are still planning to move, but as time goes by, and we keep weighing options, we have gained more clarity about the non-negotiable traits of our next home: living close to nature and to a vibrant cultural center is important, yes, but having at least one good friend who can ease us into community in our new place, has become essential.

How about you? With all that is going on in the world, what makes you feel at home? What are the essential ingredients to a community where you can thrive?

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

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