At the age of 12, I had an epiphany on a baseball diamond at a park near my house. I was in the batter’s box and was suddenly keenly aware of the absence of my presence. I could no longer hear the clapping hands of the coach as he belted out orders, or the encouraging hollers of the Saturday morning crowd. Nor did I hear the tinny thud from the bat that launched my ball toward left field. Aside from the fact I hated softball, all I could think of was, “I want to be anywhere else but here.” France was always on the top of my list. Switzerland and Italy sounded pleasant too, and I had had recurring dreams about pin-balling my way along a crowded street in Tokyo. The collective shriek of my teammates telling me to run to first base brought me back into the game. As I rounded second, the ball landed with a slap into the glove of the third baseman. I was caught between second and third base. Pickled. Back and forth I went trying to avoid the tag, until an overthrow allowed me to sprint toward third and with everything I had left, trying to beat the ball being thrown from the infield, I slid ungracefully into home.
Maybe it’s the town where you grew up; maybe it’s where your parents and siblings live; or maybe it’s a five-sided slab of whitened rubber that once tapped with your sliding hands, earns you hugs, high fives, and pats on the butt. Home is, for many, a place you strive to get to, or in some instances, a place you strike out and never leave.
On that day, on that baseball field in suburban Los Angeles, arriving at home plate made me realize I felt happier running between the bases fueled by the thrill of trying to outrun the ball. For me, the journey felt like home much more than the destination
This is a memory I hold close to me wherever I go. A reminder that one needn’t cross an ocean or climb a mountain to undergo a journey. As a person infected with wanderlust since a young age, and as someone who has moved every few years since the age of 18, I am often asked if I miss being home. My response is the same. I am always at home when there’s the possibility to leave. It’s when there are no travel plans on the horizon that I find myself unhappy and with restless legs.
When I was 24 I was offered a promotion that came with a nice salary and coveted title. A no brainer, or so I thought. The job was in Detroit, Michigan. Not exactly the port-of-choice for a native of the golden state. Most Californians would turn the job down. I know, because, they did. Let’s just say I was not the company’s first choice. I of course saw an adventure and took the job.
I packed my suitcases, and my car, and shipped them to the Motor City, arriving during the coldest winter on record. It was a complete climate and culture shock. The only person I knew was my landlady who knitted potholders while chain-smoking Marlboros in her kitchen. Was it home? For three years it was. I knew it wasn’t permanent and that’s what motivated me to take the offer, the adventure.
I learned to drive in the snow and make snowmen. I explored the length of lake Michigan. I sailed. I met people I’ll know my whole life, including my husband, and I have an alarming abundance of hand-knitted potholders.
I also learned I could be at home anywhere. After I left Detroit, I would move three more times in five years.
For many, home is defined by the four walls they live within, and by the tree-lined street full of neighbors and friends on where the four walls can be found. Don’t get me wrong. I like a place to hang my clothes, to invite friends for dinner, and to sloth around on the couch while watching movies with my family. I just want my four walls to move from time to time so I can be surrounded by the friends and neighbors I haven’t yet met.
For the last six years, I’ve lived in Belgium. It is the longest time I have lived anywhere during the last 25 years. It was one of the first times I stayed somewhere and didn’t immediately think of leaving again. Maybe I’m maturing. Or maybe I just felt more at home in a place where I knew that within three hours I could reach 10 different countries. One of my favorite places was the arrivals terminal at the Brussels airport. The final step for passengers at any international airport, after clearing customs and picking up bags, is to pass through a set of opaque doors. I must have watched hundreds of people pass through those doors, and each time I wondered if they were coming home, or running between the bases.
Three weeks ago the customs agent at San Francisco International Airport licked his thumb and forefinger to help spread open two pages of my passport in order to find space to ca-chunk the American immigration stamp. “Welcome home,” he said as he handed my passport back to me. The phrase sounded foreign to me, but it is home. For a little while anyway. “Good to be back,” I replied.
I rounded third, passed through the opaque doors, and slid ungracefully into San Francisco. And just like that day on the Los Angeles baseball diamond, it didn’t matter if I was safe or if I was out. It was, and still is, all about running the bases.