I wrote this post in February 2012, before we left for Peace Corps, and for some reason I left it in the draft queue. My thoughts are still incredibly relevant to our situation today as we move from place to place…
Have you ever tried to imagine the perfect place to live? When you see yourself in that city or town (or in the middle of nowhere), in that house, is everything as it should be? If you could just live there, would you never need to move or remodel or change the furniture or improve the yard?
Would you be completely satisfied?
I’ve gone through this “exercise” more than once in my head, each time running through many places I’ve thought would be cool to live. A condo in the city with a great view! (Too much traffic, expensive parking, claustrophobic busyness…) Four acres of farmland with big sky and fresh produce! (Too far from the city, neighbors aren’t close enough, endless work to be done…) A colorful hut on a tropical island! (Too far from family, mosquitos, difficult to travel…)
Even if I truly enjoyed the place I was imagining, there were always other things that wouldn’t let me be totally overwhelmed with satisfaction and endless joy. There was still poverty in the world. There was still my own shortcomings and failures. There was still reality.
No matter where, the image of that picture-perfect place was always more enjoyable to imagine than to actually live in or own. There was always something missing.
According to the TV series/documentary “This Emotional Life,” human beings tend to expect that what makes us happy for a day will make us happy for a lifetime. There’s a fancy term called “Hedonic adaptation”- which means that human beings are good at getting accustomed to, or adapting to, positive changes in our lives. On the other hand, people find ways to like things when they’re stuck with them.
The few times I’ve gone through this thought process I’ve described above, I mourn a little. I have the overwhelming feeling that I will never truly feel “at home.” I will never find a place where I can be perfectly at peace. I will never truly rest. I will never arrive somewhere where I won’t need something else, something more. I will always be just a little bit restless. Do you ever feel that, too?
Maybe this is why I’m addicted to travel and I put off settling down. Maybe subconsciously I avoid finding a home because I know it won’t make me feel “at home-” I’ll get my hopes up and then have to mourn that loss of a dream. Instead, being a nomad is closer to my true nature. I do love to travel.
But why do I long to feel at home in the first place? Why do I try to imagine the perfect place, where I can stop searching for something more, if it doesn’t exist? Why do I have this life-long restlessness and the unshakeable urge to keep searching? The answer, I think, is theological.
I believe there actually is a home where I will finally feel at peace- it’s just not of this world. For any fears of dying I might conjure, this consolation is greater and I put my faith in it. I believe I was created for a heavenly home, and all the longing and dissatisfaction I encounter in this life are a result of not yet being there. The dissatisfaction is a reminder that something remains unfinished, something I have to look forward to.
All the same…
I suspect that some day we will settle down somewhere. It likely won’t be a typical set up, since we’ve sort of outgrown our ability to fit into anything cookie cutter. Perhaps we’ll try a tiny house. Perhaps we’ll still travel a few months out of the year. But we do value community highly, and I think that will eventually pull us back out of orbit.
Whenever that happens, it will be interesting to see how much I’ll still feel that existential homesickness. Will I ever be content to stay in one place? I don’t know. I know now that no place can ever be perfect, but I still hope to find somewhere that’s right for us. Whatever that means…