They say college is the best four (five or six for a lucky few) years of your life, but nobody ever tells you just how much change will happen during that time. You begin as one person and at some point during these college years, you catch yourself reflecting. You compare who you are now to who you were then, and it is truly astonishing. The transformation is undeniable. You grow and learn and change in ways you could not have possibly imagined. The vast majority of these changes are for the better, yes, but undoubtedly, they can often be terrifying. The one thing in our lives we can be sure of, if nothing else, is that change is inevitable. You change, people change, places change. With all of the world around you and within you as you have always known it is shifting, the one thing you want to remain constant is a sense of home.
I pack up my car, put it in drive, slip on those Ray Bans, and begin the trip back to my hometown. I can hardly wait to see that familiar skyline, devour my favorite bowl of queso and be embraced by the arms of all my old friends. The sounds, the tastes, the feelings, everything that created me for the first nearly two decades of my life, will soon surround me once again. It has been a long drive and I catch myself sighing with a huge sense of relief as I see my hometown's city limit sign. I have almost made it. I cruise along with the skyline in sight but am confused as to why I cannot see the capitol anymore, and why there are so many condo buildings blocking its view. I finally reach my childhood house and swing open the door, only to find it empty because my parents are out on vacation. I am excitedly trying to make plans with my high school best friends, only to encounter never-ending scheduling conflicts due to school, travel, internships, relocation, the list goes on. This is my hometown, the place where I grew up, what I have known all my life. Why does it feel so different?
The answer is a simple one: change.
Just as you have continued on with your life, so has everyone else. You have changed and so have they. You are not the same person anymore, nor are the people you grew up with, nor are the places you grew up in. It does not feel the same because you are different. You have experienced a different world on your own, made new life experiences, met new people, learned new things, and transitioned into a different individual. Naturally, you are not going to relate to things the way you did growing up. You see things in a different way. You are no longer looking through the eyes of a 16-year-old under the beam of those Friday night lights, but through the eyes of a more well-versed, collegiate version of yourself. Eyes that have seen a lot more than those of the naive, teenage you, and they will continue to see things differently. Every time you come home, it will not be the same. You will continue changing and so will everyone else. Each person changes in different ways too, including your old friends. Unfortunately, sometimes you grow apart. Then other times, if you are really lucky, you grow together. As you carry on with your new life adventures you still come back to find joy and connection in one another. The fact of life is that this is not going to change. As you continue on beyond your college years, people will move across the country and even the world for jobs, get married (oh geez), have kids (yikes), and things will continue to shift around you.
When it all comes down to it, you still find some sort of comfort in your hometown because you need to. With the chaos and confusion that seems to be endless during this stage of life, sometimes it is the only thing that makes sense, the only thing that feels secure. In truth, where would you be without your hometown? To mine, I say, thank you for everything. For the memories, the friendships, the laughter, the self growth, the weirdos downtown and the endless tacos. I owe so much of who I am to you (both weirdo and taco enthusiast parts). I would not be the same person had I grown up anywhere else, and for that, I am forever grateful. Even if everything changes for the rest of my life, my hometown will always remain in a special place in my heart.
There is no denying the inevitable truth of change. It is here to stay. The most we can do in the face of it is our best to embrace it as part of the journey that is life, and see it as an exciting adventure. Rather than finding home as a place of residence, we should discover it wherever we feel a sense of love. Love and home are so often one and the same.