Life is full of lessons.
We see them plastered on bathroom walls, we hear them from our teachers, mentors, parents, friends. We see them in the form of pretty, artfully decorated quotes on social media. We are always absorbing concrete lessons, tiny pieces of information, like flecks of edible gold on the dessert that is our lives.
It is oft-said that the most important of these lessons, are in addition, the hardest to learn. And that lessons have to be understood, felt, in order to be learned. I could sit and talk at someone for hours about their horrible boyfriend, the job they complain about constantly, the friend who is always taking advantage of their money or time. But until they live those consequences – innately and deeply feel and absorb them to the core of their mind, body or soul… that lesson will still be tough to understand and appreciate. Any other lessons, advice, quotes, are all just smoke and mirrors, lies, illusions, unless they are felt, followed.
For the last two years, I have been struggling to figure out what possible lesson being stressed, bored, closed-in, away from loved ones, and drowning in sorrow and bitterness have taught me. “What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” seems too trite and obvious. And anyway, often that is not true. Sometimes what doesn’t kill you makes you feel like you’re holding onto the edge but that edge is slipping away beneath your fingers until there is nothing left to hold. If there is a ‘God’, I don’t know what His plan is for me, to have to be so miserable in this, my life, the precious few years of my twenties and early thirties where I should still have vibrancy and hope, and I shouldn’t be jaded and bitter and curled up in the fetal position every sleepless night, waiting for some magical ‘way out’ of my situation. Being happy where you’re at without reaching for happiness out in the distance and being grateful for the ‘good’ things in life might be another lesson that one could pull from this dreary cesspool of sadness. But, at the end of the day, none of this seems to be enough.
But the other day, I had a conversation.
My beautiful boyfriend has called Vancouver ‘home’ for ten years before moving home in 2015 to pursue teaching and save money. That December, he was ripped away from the comforting confines of friends, a twenty-something lifestyle of fun and weeknight drinking, a neighbourhood and apartment he loved, a girlfriend who was starting a short-term contract job in January, all for the sake of finding stability. And at times, he’s so grateful for that stability because of the success he feels, the income, the permanence, something he’s never had in the Neverland that is Vancouver. And yet, he’s still left without those amazing friends, the neighbourhood, the apartment that smells like home, the familiarity of your favourite hangouts, that walk to the bus stop every morning, friends just dropping by out of nowhere on their own way home from their coffee shop job.
Vancouver was home for me too, but only for a short time. And while I miss the city – its beauty, the Stanley Park seawall, my own favourite restaurants and views and bars and daily walks and my own sunny, cozy, ocean view apartment, I remember how it was for me at times when I had that 3-month contract job; I hated the commute every morning because it was an hour on that crowded train and I would often be seasick or tired; I felt useless and frustrated at my job there because I never had any work. I literally felt sometimes, that I was paid to do nothing. And while some believe that’s ‘living the dream’, it is lonely to feel so undervalued in your day-to-day life. I’d rather have been paid nothing at all, and spent each precious hour of each precious day doing what I wanted to do and going where I wanted to go. My friends left during that time and approaching summer, most of them had moved to try and find their own definition of stability. Back to Alberta, to Ontario, to the Kootenays… unfortunately, everywhere is more ‘stable’ than Vancouver. I worked my own precious ‘stable’ job, using the income I had to travel back and forth between Edmonton and Vancouver on weekends, to visit the person I loved with all my heart. I had collected every WestJet on-flight magazine. My heart would flare up with passion and excitement at the prospect of each and every one of these weekends. Heading back to Vancouver wasn’t ever difficult; but it was nevertheless, painful. Leaving the person you love is never, ever, not painful.
These days, I keep feeling as though I left ‘home’ when I left Vancouver. And even sometimes, while I was enjoying the vigor and excitement of Vancouver, I did still feel like Edmonton was ‘home’ and I had left it for this lack of security, this monstrosity of wealth and poverty, this sickness of wondering when I would find stability again like the stability I had with my career, my life, my friends, back in Alberta.
And then I lived in Edson. And now I live in Red Deer. Places where my family is far away, where I live alone in mostly-empty apartments, places where I exist without living, just for the sake of making the living that I don’t have a use for at home. I don’t go out. I don’t leave the house. I don’t do anything, because I have no one to do it with. I’ve gotten so in the habit of being at home all the time, I’ve changed as a person. I used to go home to sleep. Now I barely enjoy leaving the house, even to go grab the milk I forgot on the way home. And I miss the people I love, the people who bring me vibrance and vigor and happiness, the people that I can talk to for hours and not run out of things to talk about, the person I want to kiss goodnight every night for the rest of my life.
The important lesson to learn from all this is also trite, but one of the most valuable lessons I have ever, or could ever, learn: home is not a place; it’s a person. Home is sitting on the couch with the person you love, one of you watching TV, one of you surfing the internet, both of you in neat and perfect silent comfort; home is those late-night talks following watching The Bachelor with your best friend. Home is board games with your siblings. Home is going out to your favourite karaoke bars with the people you loved hanging out with in high school, doing crosswords at the Second Cup that was down the street from where you lived when you were 19, home is Oilers games and drinks with friends and knowing where you’re going when you get in the car.
Home is the best thing there is. No matter what it looks like, who it entails, what the cost is to obtain it, who you spend time with. HOME is not just a silly concept that you sew into a needlepoint and hang on the wall; it is everything.
And so, when you don’t have a home, physical or metaphorical, you have nothing.