“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” -Maya Angelou
I want to go home. The problem is, I’m not sure where that is. It’s not Olympia any more, not since my parents died and we sold their house and I packed up my high school bedroom with its lavender walls and blue plastic glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. It’s not Anchorage, where I spent my first fourteen years making happy childhood memories amid snowball fights and sledding and ice skating on Chester Creek. And despite taking up residence for nearly fifteen years in Los Angeles, it’s not really L.A. either.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of home lately, what it is, what it means, how I define it. Is it where we’re from, where we grew up? Is it where our family is? Is it where we feel the warmest and safest? Or is it simply where we live now?
I haven’t felt at home in a while. The last two years of my life have been an intense period during which everything familiar has been ripped away, some of it by circumstance, some of it by my own design.
I have a new home now. It’s still a handful of miles from the ocean but that doesn’t keep it from feeling like the sea. It’s bright and airy with lots of natural light, beautifully landscaped grounds and a patio large enough to do yoga on, a patio that’s begging to be populated by plants. I’ve decorated it in a way that’s very Sarah – furniture made from light-colored wood and textiles in every shade of blue imaginable: teal, turquoise, navy, cerulean, aquamarine. It’s serene and lovely here, and a sense of calm pervades. I feel grounded in this place, and yet I can’t settle in. I can’t shake the feeling that my charming little cottage is a stopgap on the way to somewhere else, some destination yet unknown or undecided.
My whole life, I’ve always gravitated toward the water. Whether it was Cook Inlet in Anchorage or Puget Sound in Olympia or the Pacific Ocean, being near a body of water – something expansive – has always made me feel secure, like I’m not stuck. As though, through a waterway, I’m connected to the rest of the world and if I need to, I can stage a quick getaway. I’m not sure where this feeling comes from, only that I’ve always had it.
Given that, I suppose it’s not surprising that upon moving to L.A., I fell in love with Santa Monica. I’d go to the ocean as often as I could, taking long walks through Palisades Park, daydreaming with my headphones on. One building in particular captured my imagination immediately, a gorgeous Spanish style manse on Ocean Avenue called El Tovar by the Sea. I’d imagine that when I’d finally made it big, I would buy the penthouse suite and sweeping views of the Pacific would be the backdrop to the glamorous and exciting life that I’d lead there.
It’s funny how your dreams evolve as you get older. While I still love visiting Santa Monica – breathing in the sea air, taking long walks in the park – I don’t want to live there anymore. Not even if someone handed me that penthouse suite on a silver platter. It’s not that I no longer daydream, but the hard won wisdom that’s come with age and the certainty that nothing is guaranteed has caused my dreams to shift and become less pie in the sky, more grounded in the real and the familiar. There’s something about El Tovar by the Sea, about Santa Monica, about Los Angeles in general that has become too sterile, too perfect, too high atop a pedestal, too held at a distance.
These days when I meditate on the idea of home, I think about where I fit in, where I’m allowed to be myself, where people ‘get’ me. I think about what’s most important: the best place to pursue career success, or the place with the greatest opportunities to grab happiness? And is it possible that those two things can intersect, that they can coexist in one space?
I used to think that there was only one path, only one place, for me. I used to be pretty dogmatic about it. But now I wonder if that’s true. Maybe in the words of Joseph Campbell, it’s time to let go of the life I’ve planned in order to have the one that’s waiting for me. Maybe I can have everything I want, but maybe the road to get there is different than I thought. Maybe it’s simpler, easier, more connected to my past. Maybe, like Dorothy, happiness has always been in my own backyard.
If home is where the heart is, then tomorrow I’m heading home. I’m spending ten days in the Pacific Northwest, dividing time between a waterfront parcel of land on Grapeview Loop Road in Allyn, WA – known affectionately as ‘the beach’ – and Vancouver, B.C. The former is as idyllic as its name implies. It’s the place I came of age, spending every summer swimming in Case Inlet, beachcombing and building bonfires under the stars. The latter is where my big sister lives with her family, and it’s the place that has consistently been my favorite destination for fun and laughter, a picturesque urban center with an international flavor that never ceases to inspire me. The bridge between these two places is Seattle, the city where I was born, the city where my Mom spent many happy days and that she loved so much, the city that I spent many happy days in with her, the city that always makes me feel so connected to her. On my way from point A to point B, I’ll swing through the Emerald City for a quick stay over, just to say hello. It would be impossible not to.
There’s this song I recently discovered – ‘Coming Home,’ by Storyman, an indie band from Ireland. One of the lyrics is stuck in my brain, perpetually on repeat: ‘home is where your heart meets mine.’ It’s simple, and it rings true. But which home? And whose heart?
I haven’t quite figured that out yet. And so, I’ll keep looking.
Until next time, friends.
Thanks again, Sarah, for such beautiful writing. Having lived my entire life in the Puget Sound area, I find great peace and renewal in and near the water. While you are enjoying your time at “the beach”, my wife, daughter and two of our grandkids will be camping in our trailer just a few miles away at Belfair State Park. Hope your time in the PNW brings your great joy!
Thank you Rick! Have a wonderful time camping!
Great photos. Great questions. Have a wonderful trip.
Thanks darling. xo