When I was a freshman three years ago, I found myself complaining to an upperclassman friend not so much of homesickness, but of a strange sense of belonging to two places at once and never knowing how to feel at ease in either one.
“It’s like I have two homes: one here at the University of Dallas and one back with my family,” I said. “When I’m with one, I miss the other. I feel really weirdly incomplete all the time.”
The idea of home is a constant struggle for me, as much now senior year as it was then. It’s on my mind a lot now because the idea of home and the idea of transition are so intricately bound.
Conventional wisdom tells us that home is where the heart is, but that did nothing to resolve the tension I felt as an 18-year-old living on my own for the first time. My heart was here on campus with my friends, but it was also in my home state with my family.
As Thanksgiving break drew mercifully near, I remember returning to my family rejoicing, only to experience sadness after a few days because I missed my Irving home. The same process occurred when I came back to the pasty white walls of my dorm and the company of my classmates.
What was my problem? I wondered. Wasn’t I home? Wasn’t my heart among those it loved?
It turns out that many places at once can be home for us. It’s because we build our homes in people, not places, and they in turn take their refuge in us. This sharing of hearts is why transitions can be so difficult: why it’s sometimes hard to go home on school breaks and to return to UD afterwards, why it’s difficult to graduate and move on from the university, why we grieve when a classmate has died.
Especially in the lattermost case, the rooms of the homes in our hearts are now empty, and we try to learn how to grow around that absence through our grief. And yet, the amazing thing about loss is that it draws us closer to others.
We find a new community, a new home, in those struggling with the new absence in their hearts, in their homes. In transitions there is always a finding and a losing, a struggle between absence and presence, a battle for recovery in our hearts as we build our homes.
This realization won’t make going home on school breaks much easier for me, nor will it make returning to UD in the spring a smoother process. It might not console those mourning for Brandon Barrett. As much as there is always a struggle in transition, I believe there is always a struggle in life: the struggle to accept and the struggle to try.
May we all take heart in the midst of these struggles, heart in ourselves as the one constant thing in the ephemerality of life, and heart in each other as we take refuge in our shared homes.