When I was growing up, there was one question I hated, one question that always seemed to put me on the spot like none other: “Where you from?” What that question really asks is “Where did you grow up? Which city has a little bit of your DNA carved into it somewhere? Where have you lived most of your life?” Where are you from? is a question that asks where someone’s roots were planted. The answer is supposed to be easy, it’s not supposed to require much thought. I mean, everybody knows where home is.
Unless, of course, you’re me. If you’re me or my sister, you spent most of your childhood in the backseat of a car, usually on the interstate. The hum of a car engine and eighteen wheelers, a lullaby. If you’re me, you had far too many homes to count or to remember. Nothing was permanent, the knowledge that all was temporary was engrained into your soul so much that when you were awakened in the middle of the night to start riding to some new, unknown destination…. THAT felt normal. The ground in over half the states and in three countries have known my footprints. Too many cities to count and backward small towns to enumerate… or to even remember. If you’re me, the question, “where are you from?” always stumps you. How do you answer? Do you tell them the name of the last city you lived in for a month? Or maybe the name of the last state you called “home” is better, for some reason? Maybe just say the name of whatever place you currently like the best… or the first that comes to mind? Memphis…. I could always say Memphis because that’s where I was born…. although my personal knowledge of Memphis is limited to a couple months’ stay when I was in the seventh grade. And then there was Nashville. My dad’s family lives here, and has lived here since I was a year old. For this reason, no matter where we went, be it Canada, Hawaii or New York… we always came back to Nashville. Sometimes for a week, sometimes for a year, sometimes for a couple months—whatever, we came back. I’ve attended more schools in Nashville and its surrounding counties than in any other state. McGavock, Mt. Juliet Christian, Light House, Ezell, Una, Lakeview and Glencliff to name a few. When we moved at Christmastime during my Junior year of high school, my heart shattered because I didn’t think I was going to get to graduate from McGavock–the only school I’d ever attended for more than 1 consecutive year. Coming in from some other state, my heart would quiet and I’d smile when we drove into Donelson or Antioch. Opryland, Percy Priest Lake and Hickory Hollow Mall were icons to my childhood—places that represented security and familiarity that I didn’t have in any other city or state. So… for this reason, when asked “where you from” I always responded with: “Well, we move around a lot, but Nashville… we always come back to Nashville.” A complicated answer to a complicated question.
Lately, the question of home has weighed heavily on my mind and heart. What it is, and what it means.
My daughters still talk about the “old house”, the place where they spent most of their lives. We had land, we had a porch swing. The house was… an antique… but simply because we were there for all but three months of Breathe’s life, a lot of memories were made there. Our first lemonade stand. The first puppet shows. Making homemade bread for the first time. Breathe’s surgery. Heart surgery. Certain toys. The decor. Everything is etched into our minds, even after we’ve been gone from that house for a while now. From there, we went to a very special place, a place of serenity and peace; a place where thoughts of idyllic childhoods spent roaming a safe and happy place filled my brain an heart. It comforted me when I was most in need of solace. It sits on the outskirts of Nashville, everything and everyone moves at a slower pace there than they do in the city. I fell in love with everything about it. I’d never lived in that small town before —- but it spoke to me. It seemed to call my name in ways few places ever have. Until crippling crisis struck. When it did, there was no alternative but to leave ….. and come home. To Nashville…. to the place whose parks and landmarks are by now as familiar to me as my name. It’s the only place I can drive without a GPS and not get lost. It seemed to open its arms and cradle my hurting heart as I came in. My family is here. My girls. My mom. My sister. My church. It molds the fabric of my life by holding my memories—good ones and painful ones alike, it seems to store the memories of yesteryear and days gone by. The familiarity and stability it offers is what I most wanted when I was truly hurting and alone—thus, even if it isn’t the place of idyllic childhoods spent romping in clover, it is home.
Home is the place you never forget and that seems to never forget you. If you run from it, it seems to follow you, shadowing your thoughts and dreams. Homes can be painful… sometimes they teach us things that are wrong, lessons even that can leave deep and wounding scars. Sometimes breaking away is the right thing to do. But even if you break away, whether it was the right thing to do or not, part of you gets left behind in whichever town you’ve invested bits of yourself in, either by working or dating or going to school. Painful homes present an opportunity—an opportunity to rise above it all, an opportunity to change it or ourselves, to learn from the pain and grow. But the reason that home, even if it’s painful, is difficult to leave is because in order for a place to become a home, time must be spent there. Time is a funny thing—it has a way of bringing joy into our lives even when there are huge rainclouds hovering above us. If you spend enough time anywhere, there’s going to be joy interwoven with the pain. It’s the joy that makes it hard to cut the ties, the idea that something good blossomed alongside the weeds. There have been painful memories for me in Nashville, many of them traumatizing in some form or fashion. It is why the serenity of the small and very different town appealed to me so greatly. It is why I thrived there, I was wrapped in modern day seclusion. The whispering wind and rolling hills and small parks and deserted nighttime streets reminded me of Andy Griffith and all that, as a child, I dreamed a home should be. I thought it was perfect. Until pain cut through the dream. When that happened, all I longed for washome, the place where my family lives, the place where my girls were born, the place whose streets I know, whose hustle and bustle motivates me. I’m out of seclusion now. I’m back in the midst of the fast paced, ever changing world of Nashville where the wealthy Belle Meade executive goes to a church that sits mere blocks away from Little Mexico. It is also the place whose residents have spent decades telling me to believe in myself, that I’m loved and wanted. It is home to the parks and the library I cherish, to the landmarks I’ve enjoyed with my children, to a collection of memories I carry around with me every day. The truest hugs I’ve ever felt have come from people who share this city with me.
Home isn’t about a place. Home is the connection we have with others while sharing space and time. Home is the sense of being where you belong. It’s comfort isn’t like a refreshing burst of water, like the other town was for me. Instead, home is the quiet song that gets stuck in my head that replays itself over and over and over again until, finally, you turn it up and find the joy that comes with singing along. Whether it’s a house on Main Street or the back seat of a car driving along an interstate, we’ve all got some place to which we’ve laid claim simply by living. No matter how far we may roam, we return not because we have to but because our hearts desire peace, familiarity and security. I love the city of Nashville. I love her not because she is the most beautiful or the most serene or the most idyllic. You probably won’t find her on any of the Best Places to Live lists meandering about the Internet. But that’s okay. That’s not why I love her either. I love her because of her people, and because, when I was a child, the sight of her streets offered me security. I love her because no cabin in Georgia, regardless of how peaceful, could compete with the peacefulness of lying on the grass outside in Nashville watching the stars. I love her because no matter how tempting the oceans may be in California, they can’t compare to the memory of my daughters’ faces, brightened by laughter, racing to splash through the waters of Percy Priest Lake. I love her because no matter how stellar the hospitals in Oregon may be, both my girls were born by the same doctor at Baptist, and caring physicians at Vanderbilt cared for my brother and for Breathe during her surgery. Nashville may not have the quaint cobblestone of Chattanooga but it’s got the Greenway, and all the memories I hold with my girls there, instead. I love Nashville because she’s watched me grow up while allowing me to watch her grow as well. I’ve seen her change and expand. I’ve watched how we come together when there’s tragedy. I know what the Batman building is. I’ve been on the balcony of a room overlooking the cascades in Opryland Hotel. I took field trips in school to the Nashville Children’s Theater, and have taken my daughters there to enjoy shows. I’ve fed the ducks and watched the movies in the park at Centennial. The Ryman is a familiar sight. I have eaten at The Melting Pot.
Home is comforting because it is what we know, because it helps mold us as much as we mold it and because it is simply where we are meant to be. Vacations are exciting, travel can be fun and full of adventure. We have to spread our wings, even if that means flying beyond the borders. But… “train a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” No matter how far we go, no matter how exciting we make lives, sooner or later, we long for home… to embrace it, to weep within its accepting embrace, to stand strong and confident in its midst. If the United States was a Monopoly board, Nashville would be my Boardwalk, the most prized of all the cities. It would be the key to my locket and the smile to my frown. It is my home. I wouldn’t have it any other way.