In a recent letter, my mom wrote that she looks forward to me coming home for the summer, especially because this will probably be the last extended period of time I am there. As I read her words, I was startled as I comprehended the reality within them, and I could not help but feel empty at the thought that something I loved and something I fear I took for granted is over: childhood.
Childhood certainly felt like a distant memory this past weekend. On Saturday night, I learned one of my friends from high school died in a car accident in our hometown that morning. She was 20 years old, and she was beautiful.
This is not my first encounter with young death, but it is certainly the closest.
Megan and I were in Spanish class together for four years. Our teacher was a gorgeous 27-year-old man who used to imitate Hannibal Lector on certain days and blast Bono and hop from desk to desk on others. He was amazing. I remember one day he was absent, and Megan and I found solace in the fact that at least we would finally be able to focus. Our substitute for the day walked through the door. He was an ex-underwear model; I mean, he must have been. Megan looked at me with this expression that said, “You have to be kidding me!” She threw her head down on the desk and exclaimed, “How do they ever expect us to learn?” Now she is gone. Te extranno, Megan.
A friend called in tears, and it was the kind of conversation where breathing is enough, and silence is all that needs to be said. We both wanted to be home, and as we talked, we discovered we were already there. It took the death of a friend to confirm my opinion that home is not a place. In the next few days, we will all travel in different directions to our own little plots on this earth, like ants scurrying to their hills. But we are not going home; we are going to familiar streets and surroundings. Home means people. They are the places we go to for shelter from the storm. On Saturday, when I felt like I needed home more than anywhere, the voice on the other end of the phone line made me realize I needed home more than anyone.
In my high school yearbook, one of my classmates chose to define his entire four-year experience with a single quote, whereas everyone else supplied thanks, memories and inside jokes never to be remembered in 25 years in the quarter of a page we were allotted. The quote said, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The first time I read it, I was not affected in the slightest. I wondered at what he was trying to say by including it and what the original speaker meant when he or she said it. I brushed it off as my peer thinking he was more complex than he actually was, and until Saturday night – a little under two years later – I had not thought about that quote. I thought about it Saturday because Saturday it made sense.
With the understanding that home is about people, not about places, comes the acceptance of growing older, moving away and dealing with the indelicacies of adulthood, such as inexplicable loss. Wherever we go, we can be there entirely and live there completely because at the same time, we are home, so long as we have people who we love and who love us in our lives. Adulthood is not some distant land detached from the comforts of childhood, and home is not simply a place confined to holiday weekends after we have packed our bags and boxed our books. We carry home with us no matter where we travel and regardless of how long we stay away. Maybe it is not what the quote on my classmate’s yearbook page meant, but I like to think of it as meaning wherever we go, we are at home because home – people – go there with us in our thoughts. They are the doors upon which we do not have to knock. Access them, and you will discover, “Wherever you go, there you are,” at home.