The Joys of Coming Home

It’s a striking enough sight that Liz Phair even wrote a song describing it:

I had left home a bunch of times by the time I was 21, traveling around the country with my family when I was a kid, moving to New York (and coming back with my trampled Midwestern tail between my legs), visiting friends out east and family out west. But the first big trip I took solo was when I was 21. I was only gone for six weeks, but that time moved the way time moves when you’re young–in huge, life-changing swoops. I’m embarrassed to remember how, as the plane from Paris crossed the lake, lowered its landing gear, and circled O’Hare, I pressed my face up against the window to get a glimpse of the city I’d left not two months earlier. “I’ve been away a long time,” I solemnly told the businessman unfortunate enough to be seated next to me. “How long?” he asked, I’m sure expecting to hear a number of years. When I told him, I’m pretty sure he rolled his eyes. I wouldn’t blame him.

But being away, even for a few weeks–hell, even for a few days–can give you a new appreciation for the place you call home. Partly it’s because you get a new perspective. I wasn’t gone for a long time, but I changed a lot (as young, sheltered people are wont to do when their worldviews expand even the tiniest sliver), and so I came home feeling stronger and braver and more worldly. I was new and improved, and through my new eyes I saw more to like at home than I’d ever noticed before. Chicago was the same cool old town–I was just finally in a good enough place to recognize it.

There’s also the fact that you’re coming home with a head full of “I heard this fantastic band playing in the town square with an accordion, and I ate the most delicious mussels, and you should have seen the view over the valley from the end of that hike!” Plus you’ve got a stack of photographic evidence to post on Facebook or whatever the actual kids are using these days. You’ve lived some amazing new stories, and for the first hour or so that you’re back at work, all you need to do is drink coffee and tell them to everyone who comes by and asks, “How was your trip?” This may be one of the greatest pleasures of coming home–much like planning, reliving your travels through stories and pictures extends the experience.

It could be simply that things at home are, well, homey. You’re comfortable and safe and everything is so easy and familiar. You don’t have to struggle with getting lost in strange, winding streets or painfully stumbling over words in a language you don’t really understand or trying so hard to fill every minute with some kind of worthwhile, memorable experience. Travel can be hard work, and when you walk back into your own house, you don’t have to try to do anything–you just drop your bags and fall into your own bed with its groove shaped to your body, and if you left somebody back at home, they’re waiting for you there, maybe with a beer and some Thai takeout (unless you just got back from Thailand, in which case, may I suggest pizza?).

But the biggest joy in coming home is in recognizing that it’s a necessary part of the travel cycle. When I’m on a trip, I’ll often say, “I wish I didn’t ever have to leave.” But I do have to leave. If I don’t leave, the new place becomes home, and home becomes stale and routine, and I’ll need to pack up and travel to a new place from there, and on it goes. You’ve got to go home so you can leave again. Then you’ve got to leave so you can want to go back home. If you’re lucky, it never ends.

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