This summer has been the most profound learning experience I have ever had.
I totally burst my comfort zone. I left home…and by “leaving home” I mean, I left home to the point where I couldn’t just drive home anytime I wanted to. By “leaving home,” I meant I moved seven states and a few time zones away. I am working the most demanding internship I have ever had. I love this summer, for all of the ways it has shown me my own potential.
Because of this summer, I face the future’s uncertainties with much more confidence. I may not know where I will be in a year, but I do know that I am more than capable of handling it.
One of the big changes that occurred for me this summer is my definition of the word “home.” There are multiple connotations of it. I can say, “I am going home,” and mean that I am going to my current place of residence, or back to Illinois. Home can be a physical entity, or a feeling. It can be a mentality or even a group of people. The word “home” has never had a definite meaning for me.
When I started college, “home” tended to mean the basic geographic region where I grew up; Kankakee County, if you will. Many of my friends lived in different parts of the county, and we often had to drive “to town” to do anything of consequence, so home encompassed Kankakee and the rural areas surrounding it. Home included my childhood friends, my family, and my high school sweetheart. Home also included 4-H, FFA, the farm, and my dog.
Now, after experiencing a sort of introductory homesickness from school, and now the “real deal” here in California, I realize that “home” is so much more than just the area where I grew up and the people I spent my childhood and teenaged years with. Home is where I make it. “Home” happens anytime I take my settings and develop them into my own environment.
It really hit home today. I had just returned to the office from the farmers market across the street. I had been looking for lunch, and some pistachios. I sat down at my desk, started to eat my lunch, and realized, “I would have never done this at home.” I would have never walked by myself to a park in a busy metropolitan area, to buy lunch and produce. I never would have considered taking the bus to work. I never would have worked in a high rise. (For those of you who don’t know, I despise elevators. They make me whoozy.) Suddenly, it was a part of my routine. And, surprisingly, it was a routine I loved. Then I had the true revelation: I actually felt at-home in this new and strange lifestyle. Suddenly, Illinois wasn’t the only place I could ever be comfortable. In fact, I didn’t think Illinois would ever be “home” again.
I was feeling very confident about my impending permanent move away from my home region, following college.
Only hours later, I received a picture text from my sister. It was from our county fair. It was of the buses before the bus demolition derby. Anyone who has ever been in 4-H and FFA understands the deep connection that the organizations form with the county fair. It isn’t just a place where ribbons are won and livestock are put on display. It’s a place where hard work comes to fruition and memories are made. Character is developed.
The Kankakee County Fair is going on right now, and it’s the first time since I joined 4-H that I won’t be there. If I were in Illinois, I’d be volunteering with 4-H every night and probably judging projects. It struck a chord in me…then, furthermore, I realized that next week is the Gladiolus Festival (Glad Fest). I have been heavily involved in the Glad Fest since my birth. I have been in every parade since I was a baby. I was runner-up for Glad Queen. My father served on the Glad Fest board for years. Glad Fest is in my blood and is a very large part of my life. And it’s happening next week, whether I’m there or not.
I broke down. I cried. I burst my own bubble. I had been so confident that I was ready to pick up and leave home for good after school. However, that shocking realization helped re-center the perspective some. Now I understand the situation better.
Home isn’t just “here” or “there.” It’s not Illinois, or California, or necessarily anywhere in between. Home can still be all of the various definitions I mentioned before. Above all else, home is an internal thing. Home is wherever it needs to be. Whether I crave the longstanding, sentimental comfort of my childhood haunts, or a sense of confidence in a place I never thought I’d be…I always have a home.
Afterword: I am still horribly homesick. I will probably be inconsolably blue next week during the Glad Fest. Understanding this helps, but it doesn’t remove the pain of missing big events. Regardless, I will do my best to keep on keepin’ on, because the opportunities for me here in California are much too large to take for granted.