This year, Easter had a special energy in the air. I don’t know if anyone else felt it but me. It may have been the near-perfect, sunny spring weather, or the adorable antics of my cousin’s kids. But for me, what really made the day stand out was this: Every time I hugged or kissed my cousins, aunts and uncles, and wished them a Happy Easter, they each warmly responded with, “Welcome home.”
I didn’t realize until recently what a big word that can be. This Easter, it resonated deeply. I haven’t been home to celebrate the holiday in six years. Those warm greetings spoke to my deepest and simplest definition of the word–the place I grew up, the memories I grew up with. It’s amazing how those familiar smells and sounds, the pictures on the walls, can put you back in the shoes of a younger you.
The younger me at age 16 decided one day that my best career would be broadcast journalism; I envisioned a career at one of the Chicago news stations I watched growing up. 19-year-old me was told in order to achieve that goal, I’d have to fly the coop first. 22-year-old me did just that, packing up my newly-gifted furniture from mom and dad and driving three hours to Lafayette, Indiana. And my 24-year-old self got really crazy, chasing adventure, my boyfriend, and a producer job down to Austin, Texas, without ever having stepped foot there before.
I never lost sight of that vision I had when I was 16, even though I’ve since become an entirely different person. A few months ago, a sudden inclination coincided with opportunity, and before I knew it, I was offered a TV producing job in my hometown.
Then a funny thing happened. I had realized a goal that was more than a decade in the making, and I was so proud of myself. But as I packed up my things and started what I dubbed my “Austin Farewell Tour,” the emotion I felt the most was sadness.
On the one hand, my heart couldn’t wait to be reunited with my dear friends and family whom I missed terribly. And in fact, after being home now for nearly two months, I can say the benefits of living near my loved ones are stronger than I imagined. But I realized as I prepared to move home, that I was also leaving a home behind.
During the weeks I was in limbo, not yet leaving Austin but having no idea what my new life would look like, most of my friends and family had one of two reactions: “I can’t wait for you to move here!” or “I can’t believe you’re leaving us!” It was kind of funny the way the people in my life perfectly mirrored my conflicting inner voices.
But one day, one of my best friends called me to see how I was doing. She told me, “I am so excited for you to get here. But at the same time, I am sad for you. Sad for all that you are leaving behind.” It takes a good friend and a particularly thoughtful person to recognize the state I was in. When she spoke what I was feeling out loud, I realized I was never going to have everything that I wanted. And that’s what life is about–choosing the set of options that fits you best.
Seven weeks after arriving in Chicago, it’s starting to feel like home again. But sometimes I still pine for the homes I’ve left behind. It hits me when I feel a pang of longing for our favorite Indian restaurant, or nostalgia wishing I was sitting at the coffee shop on the lake. Sometimes it’s as simple as the doubt I felt when it was NEGATIVE FIVE DEGREES on my first day of work, as I checked the weather in Austin, which is still on my weather app. Or moments when I almost blurt out an inside joke with former coworkers that I know no one here will get.
And it’s not just Austin that makes me feel this way. Just the other day, I got a little sentimental when I told someone about how my boyfriend and I used to walk across the street from my Indiana apartment to rent DVDs from the library. I had a flood of memories when my old address from my quarter in Washington, D.C. popped up during my apartment rental process. And a recent conversation about martini bars reminded me of the one I used to frequent with my good friends during my time in Champaign.
As I embark on this new chapter, I’m already seeing that there are moments when I will feel like I’m back in a home that never really left me and I never really left. But there are as many or more, where I’m once again carving out a new place in the world until it feels like mine.
Just a few weeks after I arrived in Chicago, an old friend shared a post on Instagram that really spoke to me:
I know now that part of my heart has been left behind in so many places, with so many people. And never for an instant will I regret the path I have taken, or the homes it has given me.