“Home is where the heart is.” The first time I encountered this expression, it was stitched on a piece of embroidery and hung next to entrance of my neighbor’s quaintly themed kitchen. I was eleven and newly enlightened to the mysteries of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the real places babies came from. Reality, I concluded, was made of tangible things and provable ideas.
Confident that I had solved the secrets of the world, imagine my bewilderment when I happened across this phrase that none of my pre-teen savvy could support. For instance, hearts, as I had learned in Science, are pulpy, slimy, shaped like fists and do not look at all like the little pink drips you see on Valentine cards. Though this definition of the heart certainly did not apply, the meaning was equally abstract. “Home is where the heart is.” Coincidentally, the decoration was homemade. I looked at it each time I went to my neighbor’s and each time I left; it hung just inside the door, quietly demanding attention with each step onto the doormat. I made sense of the phrase by resolving that the “heart” represented people and the “home” the places they lived; the adage was simple, just slightly overstated.
It was not until recently, as a seventeen-year-old junior in high school, that I revisited this meaning. Roughly two months ago, following a series of spiraling events, my parents decided to separate. With little prior notice, my mother and I packed whatever we could in a three-day frenzy. With boxes of silverware and Christmas ornaments, bags of clothing, and my dog Jessie, we left our house for a hotel and began the search for a more permanent place to live.
The weeklong stay in the hotel room was more emotionally draining than I have the words to describe. My mom was divided: happy knowing that this change for our family, including my dad, was for the better but anxious from moving without yet having a place to move to. While she browsed, analyzed, and categorized apartments, I would stay in the hotel and stew in confusion. My life, prior to this, had all the luxuries of a house undivided, an income undivided, and a family undivided. Needless to say, the idea of my life being halved did not settle easily.
I contemplated the changes my life was about to undergo. Often, in the mean hours of sleepless nights while mom and I had to share the bed, I found myself asking some greater power, fate, or… just asking myself what I should expect of the future. When was I going to see my room again? My cats? My dad? My house? And then I began wondering if the house was still my house. Doubtless, I was not going to live there anymore, but did that mean it was only my father’s? Or did the pictures hanging in my bedroom somehow entitle me to it still? What of the hotel, I would wonder. By living there, did it make it my temporary home? Would the new apartment be my home? And finally I wondered, ‘what defines a “home” anyway?’
“Home is where the heart is”. The adage I had disparaged assumed new meaning in light of the situation. But still, I was distressed. If my “heart”, my love for my parents, was divided in two, which place could I call my home? By living with my mom, is the relationship with my dad somehow lesser?
Weeks later, while hanging my clothes in the closet of my new room, I unexpectedly arrived at an answer. I had been misinterpreting the phrase the entire time! “Home” is not a place; it’s a state of being! One’s home is not a measure of bricks or concrete. It’s wherever those one loves are. I realized that living with my parents apart did not make my love for the other lesser. If anything the separation makes our love for one another stronger. So long as my parents are here, divided or otherwise, I am always home, and this I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.