The Origin of Homesickness

Have you ever wondered where homesickness comes from?  That sweet nostalgic heartache?  I have.  But what is it that we are missing exactly?  Longing for exactly?  Is “home” a place or a feeling?  A memory or a reality?  A person or the idea of a person?  Someone we know well or someone we haven’t met yet?  A favorite, well-known place, or somewhere we have never been?

What brings this idea to my mind today (other than the fact that I am constantly thinking and wondering about these kinds of things) is an interview I overheard on the radio.  The guy being interviewed was an author, I did not catch his name, but he had written a book about his journey and self-discovery and the realization of what “home” is for him.  He said he has lived in New York for 32 years, but he would never call himself a New Yorker.  He travels a lot, all around the world, and he says he feels most “at home” out in the world.  The only place he doesn’t feel at home is at home.  I thought this was interesting.
For me, I grew up with my dad in the military.  We moved every couple of years, and so I effectively have no roots, no one place I could call home.  Even since leaving home to go to college and start my own life, I have moved at least that frequently, never staying any place for long.  And I am comfortable like that; that is normal for me.  In fact, though I like the idea of roots and neighbors and consistency (in theory), I start to get antsy after not very long.  And uncomfortable.  Claustrophobic.  So part of “home,” or at least normal, for me, is not having roots. Not having one place or house or city that I can point to and say “that’s it, that’s where I’m from, that’s where I feel most at home.”
Now, I have a house.  And I like that house.  And that’s where my family is and I love them.  And “home,” whatever it is, is where your family is.  This was probably solidified by my growing up.  No matter where we were, we had each other.  So home can be in a car driving across country, an apartment you won’t live in for long, or a room in a Motel 6.  You can feel “at home” anywhere.  So, for me, it’s more of a feeling than a place.
I have felt “at home” in nature.  I took my son camping this weekend, and I remember this moment, looking up at the stars, and being able to see more stars than I had in a long time.  And though I had never been to this actual place before, and over half my family was not immediately with me, I felt more at home than I had in a while.
So “home,” like the one you can feel homesick for, is, for me, more of a feeling than a place.  And people can bring it out in me more than any one house or neighborhood.  People I know, of course, my wife and kids, my sister, my dad.  But sometimes, on rare and wondrous occasions, people I don’t know.  Have you ever met someone and felt warm familiarity rush over you?  I have, and I think it’s an amazing phenomenon.  I don’t know what that is.  I am sure many people would explain it away as coincidence or some psychological episode (like deja vu) or even hormones.  And that’s fine.  You don’t have to believe.  But I believe in stuff like that.
I don’t hate feeling homesick.  It’s a mostly sad, but bittersweet feeling.  Does anyone remember that song by Soul Asylum?  Does anyone remember Soul Asylum?  That song about being “homesick for a home I never had”?  Yes, it’s like that.
Longing is better than not longing.  Missing is better than not having anything (anyone) to miss.  Home can probably be different things to different people.  And that’s fine.  What is home to you?

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