When I think of home, I think of the click of the door shutting behind me as I returned from school, cueing my mom’s shouted, delighted greeting from her upstairs studio. I think of my college friends scattered around our blue-carpeted living room, in a sea of books, papers, candy wrappers and existential crises.
But maybe most fondly, I remember walking into my grandparents’ house for every holiday or just for a visit. Taking my shoes off on the tile floor, exchanging “pootsies”, or kisses, with all my cousins, uncles and aunts, and following the scent of homemade meatballs to find my Nana Rose stirring a pot on the stove. She would tap the spoon on the edge, sauce specks flying, and stop to greet me.
“My chicanella!” She would say, hugging me tightly. “Look at how tall you are.”
She worked her entire life to build and nurture a close-knit family and provide us all with a sense of belonging and unconditional love. So when I received the expected and dreaded call a couple weeks ago that my Nana Rose had passed away, I felt as though part of my own identity was lost as well. And here I was in Nome, a place still unfamiliar to me, searching for home.
Turns out home is not so much a street address as it is a sentiment, and although I may be across the country from the walls that held me most of my life, I carry with me those moments of sanctuary and comfort I’ve found with the people I love and I collect more wherever I travel. During my life, I was lucky enough to watch my Nana effortlessly make people feel like they were at home through solely a conversation, a smile or a hug. It was magic. And it is all around me here in Nome, a place that survives and thrives with strong human connection, trust and compassion.
When I think of home, I think of kicking off my muddy boots in the arctic entryway of the volunteer house, cooking a very creative family dinner with four wonderful roomies/co-workers and celebrating when our bills are lower than expected. When I think of home, I think of bouncing over potholes that make our mix CDs skip as we head out of town. I think of coming across a reindeer hanging out in a pick-up truck.
I think of watching the sunset to my right and the moonrise to my left as I stare over the Bering Sea. I think of staff meetings full of gratitude, of taking poetic hotlines from a father to his son with the love almost tangible through the phone. I think of the openness and honesty of people here, their willingness to share with me the ways in which they’ve filled their lives.
And I can feel Nome already filling mine with these different conceptions of what it means to be home, to be loved and to belong. And for that, I am grateful.