Home is Where the Heart is… but How to Locate the Heart?

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“Home is where the heart is” is a nice quote and one that can easily apply to most people in the world, no matter where they live, what their status is, or how much money they have in the bank. However, as a person born in the 90s (well technically in the 80s, but 1 month and 15 days doesn’t really count, right?), I recently started pondering more and more with existential questions like, what defines the “home” for me and where this mythical place actually is, is it a geographical or more of a mental construction or a mix of both, and is it the same for all of us or each person defines home differently, based on a set of subjective criteria that are specific for that person.

From my initial upbringing, through my primary education at school, to my first years at University, parents, teachers, and friends alike always insisted that home is the city I was born in (Sofia), the country I was born in (Bulgaria), and the continent this country is located in (Europe), alongside the specific details such as locale where I usually reside in or hang out around, etc. But as more time past and I moved first to the UK, and subsequently to Germany, I realised with a certain dash of horror that my home is actually not where I have thought it was.

I distinctly remember how scared / confused I felt when I first landed at Heathrow’s terminal 5 on the 17th of September 2008 and the days, weeks and months that followed, full of sometimes weird, unique, or simply thrilling experiences that I will not forget for the rest of my life. These initial experiences triggered a tiny lightbulb in my brain that started questioning the whole concept of nationality / patriotic allegiance, and ultimately home belonging.

At first, I started arguing with myself, trying to rationalize these thoughts with reasoning like, well, it’s always difficult in a new city / country, these are just emotions and I should try not to put too much thought into the whole thing. Then more time passed and I started asking myself even harder, where is home, and why the heck, if home is where everyone insists it is, for me, home is not there and is somewhere else, and worse, I have no clue where that place is? And then it hit me like a freight train that something has actually changed quite significantly in my thought process because of the variety of experiences I have had for the past 9 years and I have lost a significant per centage of my national allegiance, along with it, my sense of belonging at a particular place.

Call it utopian globalization, an unhealthy internalisation, uber stupidity, or something else, but the fact is a fact: I started feeling that I don’t belong in my city and country any more, or rather, I realised that I am not rooted anywhere completely as I feel that I belong to numerous different geographical places, none of which could be called home in the strict sense of the word.

This doesn’t mean that I cannot feel simply incredible when I am back in my home-town, chilling with whiskey in hand at home, hanging out in the best bar in the world for me, or simply having long walks with friends at night in the urban streets of central Sofia. It just meant that this was not enough to persuade me to go back and confidently say ok, I can live there permanently, I can find a job and work only with the local guys, do the stuff that everyone else of my fellow Bulgarians is doing, and ultimately build a life there. The worst part is not even this. The worst part is that I cannot confidently say where I would really feel at home, whether this place could be Berlin, London, Sofia, or some other yet-to-visit city. I just feel that my home will never be a single location, but rather, an abstract mental construction that consists of an ever-changing list of places scattered around the globe, which, put together, make a global home for me.

I am aware that this could be quite abstract, so I will give a few examples, to better illustrate what I mean:

  • Sofia. This is my native home and will always be: I use to go to it in the moments when I feel a bit nostalgic or generally down, or in the rare moments when I really want to go back and experience a piece of my former life. There I can see my parents and family alongside a few good friends who still call the city their home. I can also go to a few super-specific places and do a few activities that are important specifically to me.

    For example, I would usually visit Beso – the best bar that I have found so far in the world where I would have a few drinks with my family or friends, whilst engaging in thoughtful conversations or simply general banter. Then I can go and do a nightly walk with a good friend across central Sofia, enjoying the evening simply walking the streets of the city, or chilling out with a beer-in-hand in front of the national theatre, or in the Borisova Gradina park.
  • London. For the moments when I want to feel the pulse of the big city and where I can feel that I am alive and where I can be inspired that as long as I am healthy, I can do much more to make my life even better, more interesting and generally more fulfilling. There I would usually do a few big walks around the West end, through the city, all the way to Shoreditch. Then, I would visit Tinseltown – For the moments when I am craving a burger at 3AM, and I want to recall the amazing and numerous conversations I had with a friend there when we were both studying in the city. I would also visit my former district of Finsbury Park, where if it is throughout the day, I would go to The Front Room Cafe, where I would grab a good toasted Italian sandwich I used to have for breakfast for months, if not years, on a daily basis, whilst living in the area, or if it happens to be a night-time when I am in the local area, I would go to McDonalds on Green Lanes – another location for a unhealthy but tasty breakfast wrap or a super late night cheese burger with fries, where we used to have deep and long good conversations with the same friend, or even better, I would go to do some late night shopping in the 24-hour open, almost deserted at that time of day, Sainsbury’s in the green lanes shopping park, simply because this is something that I cannot do by myself alone, on a Sunday, let alone in the night here in Berlin.
  • Amsterdam. The place that inspires me not to take life too seriously and to sometimes have fun for the sake of it. I would visit another very good friend there and we would probably go to a night club or an electronic music concert somewhere in the city. The rest of the time we would be either trying to get into Cannibale Royale – where a few months ago, I had the best burger in my life so far, or we would go to another interesting place to have some good food and a few beers to top it all off.
  • Berlin. The city which showed me that life can be experienced even in a slower pace and the world would not end if you decide to live this way. If / when I move out of the city, I would surely be coming back, if not for anything else, for the pure joy of visiting The Peaberries Cafe on Torstraße – where I occasionally fetch my first dose of caffeine for the day and the first coffee shop I visited in Berlin, or the ultra-hipster and expensive, but ultimately cool Sankt Oberholz on Rosenthaler straße – where I usually munch in on the best chocolate cheesecake ever, or simply sit down on the bar-stools facing the street and enjoy people-watching whilst drinking flat-white, surrounded by hipsters working or pretending to be working on their Mac computers.

So, after giving all of these examples, how do I define where home is, when I realise that I will never be satisfied to stay at one place for an extended period of time, doing a mundane everyday job, meeting with the same people and doing the same meagrely satisfying everyday things for the rest of my life, when my life has been scattered across a variety of time zones and locations? I simply cannot, and I do not understand how people manage to find this acceptable or even tolerable for their whole lives. But of course everyone has the choice to live their life the way they want it to, and at the same time, everyone should have a place to call home, so surely there should be a way to fight these feelings and find it – my problem is that I have still not found it due to one reason or another, and still yet, I have no clue how to go about it.

 

Have you found this magical place yourselves? If this is the case, and you have had the same experience as me or at least you have asked yourselves similar questions at some point of your life, I am eager to hear how you found your place that you could call home or how you managed to dodge these questions and brush them safely aside. Until then, happy globe-trotting and enjoy life, no matter whether you feel at home at the place you are right now or not!

P.S.: I have never written the word “home” as many times on one page as I did here, so apologies for this, but I could not find a better substitute.

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  2 comments for “Home is Where the Heart is… but How to Locate the Heart?

  1. Yvonne
    July 10, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    I remember feeling the same weird disconnect to the word ‘home’ when my parents proposed I come back to it when I finished my PhD….in the end they were thrilled that I decided to move back onto the European Continental Plate and live within an hours worth of flying from ‘home’.

    Coming back to Berlin (well – the bacon belt 😉 ) every time I visited my family held the same warm comfort and familiarity with people and places you described yourself, but at the same time it also came with a distinct knowledge of ‘not belonging’. In the end I realised that it is not the place itself I no longer belong to, but the fundamental knowledge of the people around me that this was their place, the place they have lived in for years and the place they will live in and orbit around until they die, the place to purchase land, plant trees and bring up your family – their home! I have no such place anymore – while I share the remainder of their live visions I have no place attached to the idea, deep down I even feel threatened and caged by the idea that I’d have to choose a geographical location at some point and remain in it’s close proximity forever.

    Does that mean we have no ‘home’? I don’t think so. Unexpectedly enough I even came back to my ‘home’, I live around Berlin again right now, but I still don’t associated it with home. I like it, and I think I will be able to stand this place for considerably longer than many places before and it is convenient to be close to my family, but I doubt that convenience is enough to make a home!
    For me ‘home’ is a theoretical construct rather than a specific place on the map, it’s a place I feel comfortable in, a place that gives me safety, and a place I always wanna return to…..I find that place regularly: when my partner hugs me, during a nice meal/conversation with my family, having a drink with good friends, sitting on the couch cuddling my cats.
    For our excessively mobile generation home isn’t a geographic location, home is where you are content & happy, home are the experiences you seek to repeat over and over!

    • July 20, 2017 at 11:22 am

      Totally agree! The more I think about it, the more I agree with the idea that as a mental construct and the flexibility this gives it, home could be a different place throughout ones lifetime, which is very good by itself.

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