I have to be honest, talking about what home is became exhaustive. I’ve never stopped believing in the project, but it came from a very vulnerable place. It was born out of pain where I didn’t feel I had the right to express how I actually felt, and so I decided to ask others instead, using their stories to mask my own. Perhaps their stories would give life to my own lost words. Perhaps their stories would spark something new in me, in others, and in themselves. I became determined to give a voice to those who maybe felt voiceless. I became determined to tell a story that at the surface, didn’t seem to be much, but as I dug deeper, I realized there was so much more.
I loved being able to ask the question, “what is home to you?” because as soon as the words left my mouth, strangers who before seemed apprehensive, would suddenly sink deep inside of themselves. Something in their eyes would change. Their eyes would begin darting back and forth, becoming removed from the present, and looking into their past. In just their eyes they would express years and years of untold stories, some happy, some terribly sad, some right in the middle. It was like they were suddenly flipping through their life storybook, moments they had once forgotten suddenly being flipped open to.
Some would share. Others would tell me not to ask them their story, it was simply too painful. Some would laugh, others would ask me to stop the audio recording because they couldn’t stop crying. Everyone I interviewed left with a sense of hope.
I’ll never forget Chris’ words. I was in a bar in Austin, Texas and he was sitting there alone. I tried talking to the bartender but she declined. I could see that her storybook wasn’t something she wanted to dig up and expose. So I turned to Chris and asked him, “what is home to you?”
“Sometimes you can’t go back home, so you keep taking steps forward until you find something greater.”
Those words have never left me.
I was homeless for 415 days, although if I exclude the 3 months I spent living in New York, that makes 325 days. Those 415 days were the best 415 days of my entire life. It felt like I was hooked up to an oxygen tank in one of those new, hip Oxygen Bars in San Francisco. Each breath was more intense and invigorating than the last. Being able to let go of everything allowed space in my life to invite new things that I probably otherwise would have never invited in. Being without a home allowed me to realize that home isn’t something we compartmentalize with physical space. Home is inside of you, and if you learn how to foster and care for that home, home becomes omnipresent. Home becomes something like the wind. It’s always turning and blowing and will be with you wherever you decide to go. Home is that “something greater” inside of you.
But, I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to finally, finally, have my own home again. I’m being careful not to hold on too tightly to any of my possessions because I know how quickly possessions can disappear. I’m also choosing to keep my possessions to the bare minimum because I’ve learned that possessions don’t really make you happy. And I’m also choosing to be very thankful for the possessions I have, the roof over my head, the warmth, comfort and safe zone a house provides, because we need a place to rest our head. Each home looks different and takes physical existence in different ways, but our shelter is important. Our body is home to our soul. Our house is home to our body.
Home changes. It is altered on experience. But it also remains constant. We just have to dig deep enough within ourselves to understand that wherever we go, our home will still be inside of us.