Before I last left Illinois, I said to my mom, “I know I’m leaving home. But it also feels like I’m going home.”
It wasn’t the first time that I had felt that way, but it was the first time that I felt comfortable saying it out loud. I slipped up, once, a few years ago, and while talking about returning to school at Iowa City used the phrase “going home”, and immediately felt guilty about it, because Illinois, where my parents were, that was home.
Mom told me then, “It’s okay. Iowa can be home, too.”
But I didn’t really believe her until I found home a third time, at Disney World, and realized that I was as eager to return to Iowa City as I was to return to Peoria, and that I was just as strongly sad to leave Orlando.
Home, I realized, is not simply where you were born and raised. Home is where you live your life. It’s where you eat and work, and where the people you interact with are. Home is where you feel love and purpose. And that can be more than one place.
For me, currently, it’s four places.
First, there’s my home in central Illinois, where I grew up, where I have never doubted that I belonged. Then there’s my home at the University of Iowa, where I spent four years learning and developing routines and getting to know wonderful friends. Third is my Disney home, here where I work with the people around me to support stories and create happiness, and it feels like I’m doing what I’m meant to do with my life.
I found my fourth home just the other day. Or I should say, I came home, because I’d been there before but I hadn’t realized until I came back to it that it was a home.
It had been a very long time since I had been to Shabbat services, but I finally have a job with Friday nights off, so a couple weeks ago I found a local conservative synagogue and tried it out.
There weren’t a lot of people there, mostly people older than me with very young children. I had never been there before, and I didn’t know any of the congregants. But not long into the service, as we sang the prayers together, it started to feel like home.
That feeling caught me a little by surprise. When I was little, I heard other Jews refer to Israel as “home,” and when my family took a trip there I expected it to feel like home – but it didn’t. It was cool, certainly, and I’m glad we went when we did. But unfamiliar cities, landscapes, and archaeological sites didn’t feel like home.
I concluded, erroneously, that despite my love of my religion, Jewish places wouldn’t feel like home to me. Certainly Jewish overnight camp hadn’t felt like home, either, with the other girls in my cabin alternately bullying and ignoring me.
But the synagogue – the high ceiling and the soft pews, the language and tunes I had spent years learning, even the children running around and refusing to pay attention – that was familiar. That was loving. That was home. Even though I didn’t personally know anyone in the room, even though some of the melodies were unfamiliar, it felt like I was where I should be. It felt like I was home.
And it’s so nice to have more than one place be home.