Making Myself at Home Wherever I Need To

I need a place I can call "home." Most people do. But for me, the need for a safe harbor seems to be more compelling than with most. I love travelling, but when homesickness hits me (and it does at the oddest moments), I find myself going to great lengths to metamorphose just about any temporary shelter into something I can call home.

There's a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan that has been "home" since I sat there as a four-year-old, gazing down the bare dune at the marram grass below.

A profusion of young oak trees have taken root on its steep incline and the beach grass has crept nearly to the top, but today as I sit looking out over the ever-changing lake, I still feel the sense of being home that my four-year-old self, newly arrived from England, felt in 1940.

I'm sure this need for a safe harbor has a lot to do with that summer. When we left the only place I'd known as home, my parents said we were going "home" to America, but it meant nothing to me.

I remember the voyage from London to New York on a ship crowded with war refugees, but little of the trip west until we climbed a sandy, fern-covered hill to greet my grandparents, a tall, craggy-faced woman and a smaller, white-goateed man, who gingerly descended to greet us.

The bluff became "home" that first summer, and then a succession of houses in Michigan, Ohio, rural Illinois, and Chicago's south side.

I moved from town to country to city with a child's easy adaptability. But from the time we left England, except for that bluff above Lake Michigan, home wasn't so much a place as simply where my family was.

Later, various dormitory rooms and a house rented with friends become "home," and when I married there were apartments in New York, Arizona, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Then finally, for 26 years, there was a big white stucco house in a Chicago suburb. The 26-year stint gave me something I'd never had before. Permanence. I liked it.

But I found out that this very permanence produced a heretofore unacknowledged need for roots, the intensity of which amazed me. I was apprehensive when we moved the scant two blocks to a brick-and-cedar house we built when the children left, but found my internal compass adjusted - as always.

That compass gets a workout. Any hotel room can quickly become "home." Returning from an afternoon of wandering a foreign city to a familiar room where my suitcase is neatly stowed and my clothes hung in the closet is a joyful return to a known world, a safe cocoon where I can find sanctuary.

Certain sections of our suburban library are home, stacks where I am surrounded by books I've read and reread.

And though we've enjoyed worshiping in cathedrals, in gymnasiums, in Caribbean road-side churches, and English country parishes, I know I'm truly home when I kneel in the church where we've prayed for the past 30 years.

But it can get quite ridiculous.

I realized I might have taken this need for home to extremes when, after returning from a recent trip, I found myself getting all warm and misty-eyed roaming the familiar aisles of our hometown grocery store. What next? I ask myself. A growing attachment to the front seat of the car in which we take so many of our trips?

The mind boggles.

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