Years ago, I realized how powerful it is to know that there are places in the world where I have lived and loved and explored, and to name them as homes. Some homes I created for myself out of sheer force of will. Upon returning to them, even after long absences, trees sing to me. Rivers speak as narrators. Stories tumble down like snow from the windowsills, dusting my shoulders. I wrote a bit about this feeling when I visited Boston in March and sensed "that personal combustion and creation spilling in the streets like an ink stain, marking me again."
Today, though, I am thinking about homes I have in other people. Those others whose bodies are dwelling places for parts of my soul. In turn, I keep theirs in me. You could think of it as a variation on the horcruxes in the Harry Potter series: yes, my soul is split. Not endlessly, though, and I am not diminished, but built. I stretch and I glow, like an ember fanned, when I come into the light of their presence -- this morning, for example, while celebrating with two dear friends, who baptized their son today. Watching this old ritual of water and community, my skin was alert and and alive; I kept wiping my eyes. I felt light-headed. So grateful am I to be present for and with their lives.
But this is what startled my thinking down this way. When I unexpectedly encounter a person who is a home to me, even though we have not seen or spoken to one another in many long years, even when our time of closeness was grated with ache and hurt, it is heartening to feel the warmth of recognition pass between. A kind of clatter: this person at once a stranger and kindred. Yes. There: a place I once lived. Thank you. Thank you for my life.
My slow understanding of the multiplicity of homes necessarily depends upon separateness. It was right for me to leave Boston after a few years. It had been hard there, and I knew all along I would not stay. It was right for me to come to Detroit, and to leave for Kenya, and then to return to Detroit. I found my way to Ann Arbor at a crucial moment, and stayed until I knew it was time to go. Turning to the mountains of Asheville changed my life, albeit on the even beat of twice-a-year writing residencies. My relationship with my hometown on the Lake Michigan shore has taken surprising shapes as I've grown older. And yet, homes to me they remain, all of them, whether I am there or not.
This texture of separateness mirrors how I experience the homes I have in other people, and the homes I keep for them. Sometimes separateness is inevitable, or urgent, or wanted. And yet, homes to me they remain, all of them, whether I am there or not. It upends the ideas of absence and presence. This quiet, fluid collectivity undercuts feelings of loneliness or isolation that wash over me. It echoes a scene from Kim Stanley Robinson's marvelous Mars trilogy that stayed with me: Wherever you go, there we are.
What constellations we are. Made of stardust, certainly; our pictures drawn and redrawn among the great and gorgeous fires alight beside us in the dark.
For more on the above image, taken from the Hubble telescope, see here.