Stejskalova - vb to miss something or someone of great importance

Home, some might say, is what’s most familiar, where one feels comfortable and can unwind. As I am settling into my 17th address, I keep observing the correlation between becoming familiar with a place and feeling at home. Perhaps that is stating the obvious.

One becomes familiar with the particular way the key must be jiggled and turned in order to open the door to one’s new house. The sounds of trees, cars, people, animals, air echoing on different surfaces begin to create a familiar symphony. The temperature, pressure, moisture, of the air also begin to envelop you in familiarity. The light of the sky, the clouds, the reflection of sun begin to take on familiar hues. And then there are the big obvious things like buildings, streets, stores and people to which one grows accustomed. With familiarity grows comfort, a sense of knowing what we might expect, and in some cases a developing fondness, while with others irritation, and some of all the new stimuli just fades into a general background obscured with indifference. To be clear, a new place does not become home just by virtue of familiarity, but home certainly has a great degree of it.

It is this familiarity, especially the one we have acquired a fondness for, that we miss an old home when on a quest for a new one. It becomes a feeling of melancholy, nostalgia, a feeling, that in my experience we don’t really have a good word for in English. In Czech the word is “styskat”, which is usually translated “to miss.” It is a verb, an action, a process one experiences. This word in Czech is very specific, and within its meaning it already contains the implication that we are missing something or someone extremely dear to us. It is not used in casual statements such as “I am missing my umbrella.” One would “styskat” specifically for one’s home or one’s family. Not for the cooking of their mother, not for their favorite sweater. The object of “styskani” is animate, filled with life and combined with the fondness of the one doing the missing. “Styskat,” in my experience, is the other side of “home.”

I raised the possibility that all this questioning and searching for home might be my karma. Indeed, I think that is more than a little possible. My last name is a direct derivation of “styskat.” Stejskalova. The core of my last name contains the sentiment of missing something very dear. I am very familiar with this sentiment. I remember first feeling it before I even knew there was anything other than home. I hadn’t even gone anywhere but home yet, and already I had the feeling of “styskat.”

I was about 4 or maybe 5. I was in the “big kids” grade of a state sponsored day care center mandatory for all pre-school children in Czechoslovakia. Our moms dropped us off during the pre-dawn hours, before they scurried to work in the enormous Bata shoe factory that provided the infrastructure of our city. We laid on wooded lounge chairs, all our bodies facing the same direction, waiting for the sun to come up, for all the children to arrive, for the teachers to rouse us into the day’s communal schedule. I laid closest to the door, facing it, the way all the children behind me laid like horizontal dominoes. That was when I felt it first: missing something very deeply. It was in my chest somewhere, not as low as my belly, not as high as my heart. It felt deeper than an emotion. It was almost like hunger, or thirst; it felt almost physiological. I remember really examining this feeling, thinking “I just ate, this can’t be hunger.” It was strange, yet completely familiar. I analyzed it, trying to name it, not quite succeeding.

That feeling of styskat, of missing something very dear and important, something that one can’t quite grasp, is the flip side of home. The object of styskat is illusive, just as home is illusive. And therefore, it leads me to susptect that this question of what is home, is not just being asked by kids who moved a lot, or by immigrants, or by people with last name “Stejskal.” It is an experience much more fundamental to human nature: the yearning for going home. I specifically do not say for “being” home. We are much more attracted to the journey, the process of returning home, something familiar to us all, and yet a place we may not even remember. We know we are home when we feel it. When we peacefully lay in the arms of one we are in love with, and all seems right in the world, we are home. When we have an intimate conversation with a friend we have known through life’s hardships, we are home. When eat a meal with our parents, in conversation or silence, we are home.

My horoscope in the Washington Post today said this:

“Virgo - you may feel drawn to studying obscure topics. You can’t currently imagine how such intellectual pursuits will broaden your social horizons. There are those out there who will love to learn your views and share their own.”

My obscure topic, my intellectual pursuit is the inquiry: Where is home?

And further: What is home?

I certainly cannot imagine how this inquiry will broaden my social horizons and why anyone out there would love to learn my views. I do know there are people asking the same question, and perhaps wanting to share their views on these topics. So, although skeptical of the horoscope in a literal sense, I acknowledge its chimera of a prophecy and am launching an investigation into the meaning of “home.”

Though I have many swirling abstract thoughts and feelings about this topic (such as how does it relate to my upcoming wedding, the fluctuating state of the world, meditation, traveling, Oprah...), being a Virgo, it is helpful to start with something concrete. I made a list of my addresses starting with earliest post-birth sojourn to where I just moved two months ago.

Nerudova 158, Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia

Marxova 5, Gottwaldov, Czechoslovakia

Camp Košutnjak, Beograd, Yugoslavia

399 Shell Ct., Columbus OH, USA

45 Dogwood Ln., Laguna Hills, CA, USA...

I will not list them all here in such detail, but one of the things I discovered from making this list is that less than a month before my 33rd birthday, I am living at the 17th address of my life. Not unusual for some pockets of American society (say military families, employees of certain branches of government, migrant workers), but in my opinion, moving every two years seems like a lot.

Perhaps the accumulation of a long list of addresses such as this makes the examination of the meaning of "home" fascinating and somewhat torturous. Perhaps it is the lot of growing up in the immigrant experience. Perhaps it is my karma. Whatever the reason, it is the existential question I have wrestled with the most in my soon to be 33 year old life.

Where and what it home?

Is it the first place we lived? Where we were raised? Where we lived the longest?

Is it the place that made the deepest imprint on our experience and character while we were growing up?

Is it where we have the fondest memories?

Is it where we live now? Or where are ancestors lived?

Is it the first place we lived alone?

Is it where we raise our children?

Is it the first house we owned? The place we invested the most emotion and capital into?

Is it where the heart is?