Today is Friday, and I got home around 3:30 after being on the road since Tuesday morning. It was a very successful trip—not only was I able to attend several crucial meetings in person and conduct a job interview, but I fit almost 35 miles of running in, and managed to stay caught up on my online class homework and this blog. I even found a top-notch Lebanese restaurant near my usual hotel, and sampled deep-fried pierogies stuffed with sauerkraut, cheese and bacon in a little lakeside town in the boonies between Toledo and Cleveland. I’m getting good at traveling, after almost a year of doing increasing amounts of it. I’m developing routines so that I don’t forget to pack essentials, can keep electronic devices charged and grotty running clothes safely sequestered from all other garments. I know to wrap my big pottery water mug in a slinky silk robe and my coffee cup in a pair of spandex capris—to make sure I have something luxurious to wear when I’m alone in the hotel room, and something that doesn’t chafe if I get a bee in my bonnet to attempt a long run. I know to make sure there’s at least one book worth reading in my suitcase, an extra pen in the glove box, and extra business cards in my portfolio, the outside pocket of my computer backpack and in the console behind the gear shift. I know that a pair of reeky running shoes fares far better tied to the handle of the roller bag than stuffed inside, and that bringing a bathing suit is the perfect deterrent to entering a pool, even on the hottest days.
I love traveling, but it is beyond lovely to come home. Swapping out business attire for minimally-constrictive summer slothwear is like being let out of school early. The combination of distance driving and marathon training creates a memorable weariness in the legs and seat, which is wonderfully relieved by an hour at the standing desk followed by a rigorously horizontal evening on the couch. It doesn’t hurt at all to have a roommate who likes to show his joy at my return by feeding me with comfort food and fetching me delicious beers. Getting home in the late afternoon leaves only an hour or so for digging out of emails, making return calls, etc., before all pretense of public usefulness can subside and I can embrace a few hours of uninterrupted, unencumbered downtime.
I love me some downtime. Watching soothing TV, listening to music, reading, writing, hearing the cat snoring on the back of the couch, seeing the deeply familiar silhouette of the roommate in his rocking chair when I glance up over the laptop screen. I love the relief of a job done, mistakes that can’t be made because the opportunity has passed, new developments that can’t take wing until the start of business on Monday. Coming home after a trip means a hiatus, the pause that refreshes. It means coming down off the stage and being in my own space again, surrounded by low expectations and familiar comforts. It’s a grand thing, this place where I have laid my head for nearly a decade, where I have had every emotion under the sun and emerged whole, if not unscarred. This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere, this ramshackle cottage in the heartland, and it feels like home.
I can’t remember when I haven’t dreamed of the next chapter, the next adventure, the next set of challenges. My whole life has been surrounded with air castles about what I might do or see or explore if the current gig proves unsatisfying. I was born, and may well die, full of wonder and anticipation of what waits around the corner. I don’t lack commitment, that’s not it; I enjoy the fruits of sustained, long-term efforts. But I do enjoy reminding myself that I am not trapped, that I could do something different if I chose to, and home is where that process flourishes. At home, secure in the life I’ve made for myself, I can think openly and creatively about what all this effort is for. I can look at what I want and ask myself if I’m on the right road to get there. I can cherish a bouquet of potential futures and enjoy the vision of each one. I can do the thought experiments that keep me sure and grounded in my choices. Why only here? Perhaps because this is where I’ve fought the hardest to have choices, then to figure out what they are. This tiny corner of the earth, mortgaged to the hilt though it may be, has given me a place to hide my head when things were dark and has been an incubator for the healing that followed. This is where I’ve survived my darkest days. This is also where I learned to stand up for myself, to set boundaries and to live a life free of those who don’t care to respect them. This is where I’ve said the hardest goodbyes, swallowed the bitterest pills, faced the bleakest dawns. Those shadows are the engines of change, the bedrock for the choices I make now between competing visions of the good life. Wrapped in the knowledge that this is where I belong, I can remind myself that the seeds of today were contained in those moments of chaos and fear, that the germ of who I am today was somehow already present in that woman whose suffering seems now like a bad dream. My peaceful mullings over what the future may hold are contained in the history here, in this slice of geography that has contained my journey for so long.
Now that my calendar is full of days away from home, it’s a rich and strong pleasure to hold fast to this anchor, to know that the long rhythms still hold, no matter how much busyness may stir the pot from day to day. This place may not always be my home, but it is the place that taught me what home feels like. Wherever I go from here, this goes with me.
©Mary Braden 2015