I’ve moved a fair bit over the years. Although I stopped counting a while ago, I’ve lived in about 30 different places. And that’s only if you count places where I’ve stayed at least three months. Anything less than that is just an extended visit.
So I’ve had a lot of experience with leaving a place. But I never really thought of it as leaving a home. I always though home was about people, relationships. The house was just the physical space you lived in while enjoying those relationships. And, even though relationships are more difficult to maintain when you move, the relationships themselves don’t end. You take them with you. So, although you leave a place, you don’t really leave a home. You take it with you.
That’s what I used to think. But I was wrong.
See that flower over there? The yellow one near the willow tree? My wife planted that flower. She cleared the space, prepared the soil, and planted the seed. As time passed, she watched its birth and nurtured its growth. She fought weeds and dodged bees. An entire history rests between those delicate petals: a narrative of rootedness, growth, sacrifice, and beauty. She planted that flower.
Looking around, I see our family planted everywhere.
A few feet from my wife’s flower sit the remains of a concrete mound. My mound. I remember that day, playing baseball with the girls, gouging my bare foot on its craggy surface. Blood everywhere. I can still see the concerned looks of my daughters, feel their gentle hands seeking to comfort. Now that grey lump stands as a reminder, a physical marker of a fond, albeit painful, memory.
Dangling from the willow tree, the rope my daughter has climbed so many times. I can still see the proud smile that lit her face the first time she made it all the way to the top.
Across the yard stands the birdhouse, the one that has been upside down ever since the windstorm several years back. The little birds nest there every spring anyway: the avant-garde avians of the neighborhood.
Just inside the door, the guest room. A room that has shared the joy of grandparents playing with their grandchildren, witnessed the pain of a friend facing the death of a marriage, and sheltered a loved one through the last days of terminal cancer.
I could go on all day. The kitchen that we started remodeling as soon as we bought the house, and only finished so we could sell it. The dining room that witnessed so many anguished struggles over whatever poisonous slop we were forcing the girls to eat that night. The living room that featured countless hours cuddled as a family reading books, telling stories, celebrating life, and mourning losses.
Every spot a memory.
This is our home. It’s not just the place we return to at the end of the day. It’s not just the building that houses our family. It is a physical space etched by the narrative of our life.
We’ll always have the memories. In years to come, we’ll talk about the time that water poured out all over the kitchen when the upstairs bathtub leaked. And we’ll remember the last painful steps of our faithful dog as she tried desperately to get up the stairs to sleep with the rest of the family. Though the memories will fade over time, they’ll still be there.
But it’s not the same.
Home is not a concept, an idea, an abstract notion, or a memory. It’s not even a set of relationships, as important as those are. Home is a place. It’s a physical space tangibly marked by the story of you. It can’t be moved. It can’t be recreated. It can’t be replaced. A home resides. It was weight, location, presence.
We’re leaving our home.
I know that we’ll fashion a new home together. We’ll plant ourselves in that new place and begin etching the story of our family onto those walls and into that yard. And it will be a great home.
But it won’t be this one. It can’t be. So we mourn. We’re leaving our home, and mourning is the only appropriate response.