The day after I attempted to explain that I have no hometown, per se, to a German girl who was born and raised in a town of 250 people, I went home.
I flew from the grey and cloud covered cold of Germany to the sunshine state where I lived a very different life several years ago. Going home isn’t always about a place. Sometimes it is about reminding yourself of who you once were, the life you once lived, and sometimes it is about seeing your whole-self reflected in a friend.
Miami as a place was never really home for me. I wasn’t an admirer of the vines and moss of Miami’s tropical gardens, their confusion always seems foreign to me. The waves of the Atlantic pale in comparison to the giant swells the Pacific offered me in my childhood. Nonetheless Miami was my home, for a time. It was my home because the city held, and still holds some of the people who know me best, people who hold my heart close to their own.
We all show different parts of ourselves to different people at different times. Certainly I tone down my sailor-level swearing at work, but this puzzle of identity goes deeper than that. Various parts of my personality, dare I say all our personalities, shine differently in different people’s lights. One friend may know us as a party person, another as a good student. A childhood friend knows our past, but may not be able to see who we are in the present and a new friend may never fully understand where we come from. Each of us is a whole world, with shifting tectonic plates, creating mountains in some areas of our lives and islands in others.
This shifting of identity is perhaps stronger in foreign lands, as we try to blend in and assimilate, while still retaining our own identity. In a more stoic culture like Germany, I hide certain parts of myself more often. The glitter-wearing, extreme extrovert self that was integral to who I was in a busy, sexy, city like Miami, is maybe not quite as accepted in the calm of Nuremberg. As I try desperately, like so many other immigrants, to be myself, but not stick out too much, some parts of who I was, who I am, are buried.
So, I went home. I went back to Miami, and unearthed other parts of myself. Robert Frost once wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.” I have found this to be quite true, no matter how much I roam. If someone lets you in, when you are sad, desperate, lonely, or just plain tired, then you are home. When you show a part of yourself that doesn’t quite fit, a part of you that has shifted with time, or a part of you that still aches from the past, and someone lets you in anyway, then you are home.
So, a place isn’t what makes a home; people make a place a home. It isn’t the city of Miami that lets me come home. It is the people who live there, who accept any and all of me, and my glitter, and the new gold pants I bought while I was there. Similarly, it isn’t the city of Nuremberg that I came home to again, it’s the people who like my non-German way of greeting, the people who don’t care if I wear glitter and gold pants every day. No matter where we go, all it takes for somewhere to be our home, is some kind soul opening the door and letting us in.