Home is where the heart is

Just a few months shy of my 13th birthday I returned to Czechoslovakia (as it was still known then) for the first time since my parents and I left four years earlier. I returned alone. I was often asked questions like:

"Do you feel Czech or American?"

"Where do you feel at home?"

Even as child, I sensed the questions were a set-up of sorts. The inquisitors must have known there are no simple answers. Still, when faced with inquiry, one probes one's internal space and strives to supply a coherent reply, if not for the inquisitor, at least for oneself.

The most satisfying one I arrived at was this: "Where my parents are, that is home."

It felt simple and honest. At least until I was 18 or so.

In the time Tom and I were trying to start our own family, those words returned to me, sometimes hauntingly. I felt how true they were: that love for family is the essence of home.  Now Helenka is almost one year old. Forgetting and forgiving their obviousness, now those words seem brilliant FOR their simplicity and truth. What surprises me about them is how much truer that phrase is now that I am a parent. Home is where the heart is. And the heart is in love with my husband and daughter. And where they are, home is.

Loneliness Transformed

Today Tom returns after more than 3 weeks away.  Three weeks is a long time.  A friend therapist of mine once described the process of having her husband away like this:  
"The first week feels pretty good; it’s fun to be on my own and feel independent.  The second week I start missing him.  The third week I am pissed off that he isn’t home, and when he asks 'how are you?' on the phone, I immediately think 'well, if you really cared, you would be here.'"

That seemed to capture the rough outlines of my experience too.  When I moved to DC to be married with Tom, I did it so quickly, I never considered that we’d be apart for long stretches like this, let alone how it would make me feel.  And, it turns out, it felt pretty bad.

This time I tried a different approach. I listened to my dear friend Anchi Mei who wrote this in one of her e-mails during my last husband-less stretch:

"You can and also make new friends and acquaintances and keep pursuing new relationships and create social connections wherever you are. But, I think the crying comes from a different, deeper place. And that sadness can exist alongside a  different happiness and peace with the friends who are currently in your life. And maybe one day it will dissipate.  Or maybe that loneliness will remain your most steadfast friend."

Ah, yes.  Those words were like a salve.  Anchi, like me, is an only child of immigrant parents.  We’ve known each other for 20 years, and in that time, have both had extensive flirtations with loneliness.  

“Of course! I can do this. It’s time to make friends with it.  I can’t be running away from it any more.”  I knew.

And so I did.  Every time I heard the voice that said something like “You are alone.  You should be with friends.  You should get busy doing something.  See, no one is calling you and asking you to hang out...”  I took a deep breath and let that thought go.  Let it dissolve.  Then I’d take out my drawing pad or the guitar and immerse myself in the aloneness of my experience.  And it felt great!  When people did ask me to hang out, I actually chose not to.  It felt rich to be alone.  Somehow it felt like that was what I needed.   I began to crave being alone.  

I talked to my boss, a self-proclaimed “zen guy” and the Head of our Episcopal School, about this experience and he gave me the word “solitude.”  I realized I was transforming loneliness into solitude.  And solitude felt nourishing.  

So today Tom comes home, and I am so looking forward to his arrival.  But for the first time, it’s a pure welcome without resentment.  It is with deep gratitude for this experience.

Birthday Party for One

Save the cards that arrived days before.  
Leave them unopened.
Pick up one gluten-free cupcake.
Ride bicycle home slowly. 
Savoring the warm air.
It may be the last of the year.  
Arrange cards, packages, flowers on the dinner table.
Throw together a salad.
Take it all in.
Flip through New Yorker.  
Savor the feta and chicken on spinach.
Wash it down with flat wine.
Finish with sweet chocolate-y cake.
Open the card from your dear friend, your teacher.
Her handwriting shows her age.
Her words her wisdom:
“Cherish each other and all that you do!”
Card from mom. Saccharine. Real.
Grandmother’s confession:
“I write how much I spent on bread and milk, but I haven’t marked the date of your birth, my only, my favorite granddaughter. I am ashamed.  I hope this reaches you in time.”
You cry. 
You wail for your grandmother’s decline.
Or is it for your loneliness?