I ran my hand over the new kitchen countertop, feeling the smooth surface and marveling at the black marbled pattern that seemed to complete the look of the room. Why didn’t I make this change sooner, I thought, checking the clock to see how soon the realtor would be arriving.
I had lived in the house for just over four years. Four years of home repairs and landscape projects. Four years of mowing the lawn, cleaning the gutters, and shoveling snow. Four years of realizing that home ownership as a 40-something single woman was a little more than I was willing to manage.
True, I had made many wonderful memories in the house. Friends helped me make it a home by joining me for dinners and helping me rake the leaves. When a cancer diagnosis temporarily sidelined me, friends poured their love and attention on me and on this house, taking care of the cleaning and the lawn work for months on end. And my dad and I had connected in a new and refreshing way as he spent weekends installing closet doors and replacing the kitchen sink.
But my dad’s health wasn’t what it had been, and my stepdad was struggling with undiagnosed symptoms that we later learned was cancer. My family was going to need me more in the coming days, but so was my employer. And what about the writing career I had been trying to develop on the side for years? I couldn’t do it all and take care of house and yard.
Something else was lurking too. Despite the strong desire to settle down and establish some roots after a lot of moving around in my 20s and 30s, a familiar feeling had settled into my heart. A longing for something that this house, this place, was no longer providing. Is it homesickness? I thought. How can I be homesick in my own home?
I recall four distinct episodes of severe homesickness in my life. The first was Girl Scout camp the summer after fifth grade, eased only by the daily letters I wrote and received from home. The next was my first semester of college. Though I was only two hours away from my parents, the longing for home nearly derailed my education. The third episode of homesickness happened during the summer after my sophomore year of college, when a summer ministry opportunity in Maine took me as far away from home as I had been. Had my mom not visited a few weeks into the summer, I doubt I would have stayed.
The fourth episode of homesickness was distinctly different, though. Wanderlust, not homesickness, had led me on a two-week mission trip to Portugal with my church. The trip had its share of difficulties, but I was thrilled to be in Europe for the first time, and the work and weekend site-seeing trips were exhilarating.
The day before our departure, however, I hit my head and later showed symptoms of a concussion. By evening, I found myself on a gurney in a Lisbon hospital. I could barely communicate with the medical staff, and I was scared to death when they told me in broken English that my friends had left.
I need to get home, I thought. After an hour, I finally convinced one of the nurses to make that happen, and when I got back to the compound where my group was staying, relief flooded over me.
Until Portugal, I always thought homesickness was about going home, returning to a place. But I learned the hard way that homesickness is more about the desire, or even the need, for comfort, for security, for love. At the same time, the cure for homesickness—finding and making our place wherever we are, with whomever we are—also sets us up to be homesick again.
Psychologist Christopher Thurber says it like this: “We get homesick because there are things that we love. It’s the byproduct of the strength of our attachment. If there were nothing in the world we were attached to, then we wouldn’t miss them when we’re away.”
Almost three years after I first put my house on the market, I sat in a small conference room to sign the closing papers. By then, I had long since made my home somewhere else with my new husband and stepsons. Even so, as I signed my name on form after form, I felt a twinge of longing … a leftover bit of homesickness for all the wonderful memories and relationships that had been formed in that house.
After the transaction was complete, however, my husband and I shook hands with the new owner, and walking hand in hand out to the car, headed for home.
Originally published as a guest post on Jen Pollock Michel’s blog on April 14, 2017.