The flat beauty and gorgeous grace of the Chicago grid met my eyes the other night. I hopped on a plane in the late afternoon in San Francisco, and over the course of what seemed like four of the longest hours of my life, I slowly made my way back to the place I call “home.”
It’s interesting how we can be gone for so short a time, but forget so much of what we used to know.
At first, as I descended from the night sky into the airport, I was taken aback by just how flat the land is in the Midwest. It was like an open and never-ending expanse; in the distance I could see lines of light that seemed to intersect somewhere far away beyond my eyes’ reach.
I got off the plane, after anxiously waiting behind rows and rows of airline patrons begrudgingly moving their way out of the carrier. I could smell the familiar smells of Chicago–the aroma that the crispness of fall welcomes and the charming city odor that seems to stain stone surfaces all around. It reminded me of home–of the place that grew up, the place in which I had made the vast majority of my memories thus far.
My feet seemed to be walking about half the speed my brain wanted them to, like I was in a slow-motion dream–the kind where you try to run, but your body feels held down by a force of gravity ten times its normal intensity.
In the back of my mind, though, sat San Francisco, and I thought of my new life that I’d created. I suddenly felt huddled between these two parallel lives–these two seemingly mirrored parts of myself that were both so palpable in this moment of transition to and from both of my homes–and that no one knew entirely but me.
I reached the end of O’Hare’s long corridor, and descended down the escalator. My heart was still racing with anticipation, as I was thrilled to be back. I reached the bottom of the moving stairs, and before I could even look around, I saw a figure standing in the distance, leaning against one of the tall pillars, holding a small balloon, about the size of my fist, with “I love you” emblazoned across it.
With a firm hug and closed eyes, I remembered that home isn’t actually a place at all. It’s a state of being, a state of mind, and an absolute presence. It’s comfort. It’s unconditional love. It’s safety.
And we all can have that, no matter our location.