Article by: Michael SelmanReproduced with permission of the author
Home is not a place on a map. It's a place in the heart. Home has feelings, and home has a personality. Home is not a structure, but it is a feeling of warmth, love, and comfort. Home is a want, and home is a need, and when we are away from home, things can become very unsettling. There are many places I consider home, and many places I do not.
This weekend, unpleasant circumstances brought me back to a place I used to live. The ironic twist is that Harriet was also away from our home, and had returned to her former residence, as well. In both of our cases, our trips focussed on issues of home and transition, and children we love. It was the first time since we had been together that we had both returned to the locations of former lives at the same time. In a strange sort of way, we were on similar missions. When Harriet is away, I am never completely at home, because some of the warmth and comfort are gone. When she is away, there is a part of me that is homeless, no matter where I am.
As I drove up to North Carolina, for a Friday night stopover on my way to Virginia, the one bright spot I was looking forward to was running my old route, which, for almost 10 years of my life, I called home. When I lived in North Carolina, I ran this route almost every weekend. I had affectionately named it The Rooster Route, because the very first time I ran it, I heard roosters crowing as I made the assent up Rooster Route Hill. It always made me feel at home to run it. And no matter how often I ran this route, I always got a thrill when I heard the roosters crow.
Running is an element of home to me, because running is warm and embracing, and my heart resides in running. In running, I find all the elements and characteristics of home. Without it, there is a part of me that feels a little homeless.
On Saturday morning, I drove back to my old neighborhood, and was looking forward to this one element of home away from home. My run along my old route. I parked the van across the street from the structure where I used to live. It had not changed much from when I lived there, but as I looked at it, it stared back with a cold and unwelcome glare. I looked at the surrounding houses of what once I called home, and knew that strangers now inhabited many of these residences. This was not where I belonged. This was not home.
As I started my run, nothing seemed quite right. Within the neighborhood, the pavement was uneven, and uncomfortable to run on. I don't remember if it was always that way, but on this run, it didn't feel like home. As I moved away from the neighborhood, and out to where the roosters used to be, the shoulder of the road was very narrow, and the traffic was busier than I had remembered. There were now buildings where there used to be vacant fields. I had forgotten how I always had to pull off the shoulder and on to the grass every time a car went by. It wasn't relaxing, or pretty....it wasn't home.
As I made the right hand turn onto the uphill stretch leading towards where the roosters used to roost, I wondered if they were still there, or whether their former home had been vacated, and replaced by an office park. I would say that the only part of this whole run that felt at all good, the only part where I felt at home, was when I heard the crowing from the roosters that had originally given this route its name. Other than those few brief few seconds, I was running on familiar, but foreign soil. Once I passed the roosters, all I wanted to do was finish my run and log my miles. Nothing else brought back fond memories. A bit to my surprise, even while running, I was hundreds of miles from home.
I finished up my run, using the mailbox in front of the house where I used to live in as my finish line. As I completed the run, I felt no warmth, no love, no comfort in a place that was no longer mine. I looked at the house one more time, and knew that a dwelling does not make a home. I realized that I was homesick, and although I was still 900 miles, and more than a day away from being back there, I longed for home's embrace once again. I knew that I would never again find it here.
I completed my weekend's mission, and early Sunday afternoon, I arrived back home. And the first thing of significance I did was run on my home turf. I needed to be back home, and once again stake my claim. Running is one way I mark my territory. Running is one way to find my way back home.
Home is so multi-dimensional. In one sense of the word, home is everything good, and everything we desire. Home is not where we've been, but it is a combination of where we are, and where we are going. Home is where a warm embrace is always waiting, and home is where warmth, love, and comfort reside. And what we used to call home, as I discovered that weekend, is a place that, once you leave, you can never go back to.
After all, home is not a place on a map. It is a place in the heart.
Michael Selman Roads Scholar Atlanta Georgia USAMichael Selman is a freelance writer who has appeared in publications and web sites throughout the world, including Runner's World, Footnotes, and CoolRunning.