The word “home” has always been distinguishable as being so much more than a roof over our heads. Home is what drove Dorothy to click her ruby slippers together and is the sentiment painted onto heart-shaped décor.
My husband and I had just finished unpacking the final few boxes in our newest duty station – when a nagging feeling that I struggled to place, overwhelmed me. Again.
It wasn’t a new feeling. Like the boxes that we never have time to sort through and unpack, this was a feeling that had accompanied me with each PCS for years.
It was our seventh move at that point, and I was preparing to send out our mailing address update to family and friends. As I scanned through my contacts list, the slight bewilderment struck me, as it always does, that my connections in life included addresses scattered every which way. There were the stalwart family addresses from my hometown that would never change, along with some that changed even more frequently than my own.
The nagging feeling finally clicked.
Home is supposed to be where the heart is. But as I looked through my address list, I realized my heart was connected to dozens of points across the globe and the continental U.S.
How do you reconcile your heart, when emotionally – you’re no longer sure where it’s moored?
When Your Hometown is no Longer “Home”
I still remember the first time I went “back home” after being in the military. Somewhere along the way, instead of hearing “stay,” my spirit had always screamed “GO!”
So, I’d been excited to join the military, ship off for basic, and then onto adventure. But, although I had willingly left, it did surprise me that once I did return, “home” was no longer as I’d left it. My connection had changed.
There were some new family members and some lost ones. The same with my circle of friends, as many had new children or new spouses. The landscape had even changed. Some restaurants and stores were new, others had relocated or even closed.
I realized that just as I had created new memories and friends outside of my “hometown,” it had in turn done the same. And it would continue to do so, once I left.
In a bittersweet, but somewhat adventurous way – my hometown no longer had the same pull it once did. True, it would always be my hometown. But now, I didn’t know where home was supposed to be.
I had a roof over my head, but nowhere that actually felt like home.
Connecting, but not Connecting, to Each New Duty Station
With each PCS, I made the effort to dive in, and check all of the right boxes that was supposed to make my new location feel like “home.”
I volunteered. I worked. I met more spouses, and made dear friends who became so close I now consider them family. I scoured travel brochures, then in mad dashes when leave allowed – my husband and I would hit virtually every attraction and national landmark within a two-hundred mile radius of our duty station.
But even after barreling through 48 out of the 50 U.S. states and 26 countries – at the end of the day, that nagging feeling still remained. Surely, in all of that travel – like some wild explorer, home would avail itself to me – shining like a beacon from the top of a hillside.
No such luck.
As some of our friends began to retire around us, many headed straight back to their hometowns. But, we found a few outliers.
And as we followed their new adventures from tiny homes, to the Louisiana swamplands, and even a couple that sold their worldly possessions to live on a boat – we realized that home for us…was wherever we decided we wanted it to be.
The Unique Gift of Choosing “Home”
I still can’t tell you where forever home will be for our family, although we do have some ideas. But, what I can share is the tremendous feeling of peace that has come with realizing my forever home will be…wherever we choose it to be. It could be in one place, or maybe two, or like some of our friends, maybe not even on land at all.
As a hard-core traveler, one of my favorite quotes has always been “Not all those who wander, are lost,” by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Admittedly though, for some time – as the military tossed us from one PCS to another, I would feel lost. With each move, I would get my hopes up that maybe, just maybe “this” would be the duty station that finally felt like home, only to be disappointed when it never was.
It’s taken some time and perspective, but I’ve finally learned to let that sentiment go. I PCS into a new duty station now, only setting myself up to make friends, and create new experiences and memories, not saddling the unrealistic expectation on a location before I even arrive for something it may not be able to deliver.
Peace in the “In-Between” Place
One writer shared the secrets she’s learned while living in the “in-between” place in the military. I imprinted upon it immediately. If you’ve ever found yourself struggling with a feeling of emotional homelessness, where nowhere has felt like home – not even your own hometown, realize that there is still so much beauty and richness in life to be had, wherever you are.
We don’t have to have everything figured out, or always know the next steps. And that’s ok.