Today I want to tell you a story from a long time ago.
This was when I was 23 and living in Philadelphia.
I was out of college, unhappily married, and working a fancy job where I spent all my time trying to hide under my desk from the smart scary people who kept giving me terrifying tasks I couldn’t possibly complete. Like make copies and coffee.
I walked home in the autumn twilight feeling like an imposter in my pantyhose and my suede heels. Pah, looking like a successful businessperson who knew what she was doing with her life and hadn’t accidentally ended up working as a glorified secretary. My legs were cold, and my hands colder. I welcomed the ache in my knuckles; it made me feel alive, like at least that one bony icy part of me was tethered to the earth. I wondered where the rest of me was. I couldn’t feel it. It was like I was a ghost.
A truck zoomed by, and I watched it carefully. Too slow. I thought a lot about dying in those days. I was too chicken to do much about it, but I kept hoping for oblivion. To walk away from it all. To admit failure and take another shot, if that’s how the afterlife worked. (I wasn’t sure. It could be hellfire and brimstone. I didn’t like my chances.)
The sky was purple by the time I threaded my way through the homeless people– they looked much colder than I was– and walked up the filthy stairs to my apartment. My cats twined around my ankles and I kicked off my shoes.
Still in my work suit, I measured rice into my ancient Japanese rice cooker and ran water into it. I moved my fingers through the icy rice and water in a trance, feeling my joints ache even more. The proper way is to wash the rice 100 times and change the water ten times. The water absolutely must be cold.
I knew the rules for everything, it just hurt so badly to follow them.
I clicked the button and heard the manic rumbling that meant hot rice was on the way.
I pulled out a stew pot. Found onions, carrots, potatoes, chicken, and started chopping.
I felt numb. I wondered what it would feel like to accidentally cut into my own hand; how badly it would hurt. How stupid I would feel if I had to go get it fixed by a doctor.
I kept chopping.
Oil, fire, onions sizzling; add the chicken and vegetables; pour in water.
I pulled the slim green box out of the cupboard. House Vermont Curry. Japanese curry blocks, brought over in my suitcase the last time I visited Tokyo. The picture on the front of the box showed a merry 1940s kitchen, some Japanese designer’s fantasy of what a Vermont kitchen actually looks like. I broke up the waxy blocks and dropped them into the stew.
And oh, instantly the room smelled like comfort. Like home. Curry, cumin, who knows what spices were in there? Certainly not me, I always bought the pre-made blocks packaged in cardboard, like every good Japanese housewife.
It smelled like home.
And I knew I wasn’t home.
My own sobs took me by surprise; before I even knew it I was crying so hard that I was down on the dirty linoleum, my tears spattering the floor and reminding me that I should mop.
Home. I needed to find my way home.
I knew home wasn’t my ragged-but-cool Philly apartment. It wasn’t my parents’ house back in Japan. It wasn’t in my church or my job or the man I had so foolishly married.
Maybe there was no home for me, not anywhere.
A crazy thought popped into my mind, clearly from the devil: What if home isn’t a place? What if it’s learning to live inside your own self?
I shook my head. Ridiculous nonsense.
What if you could become your own home?
Oh, I knew my church friends would NOT approve of something like that.
What if you could inhabit yourself and lay down in sweet rest?
What if you’re not supposed to be for other people, you’re supposed to be for you?
What if you have to leave everything in order to find your true home?
Oh no, they kept coming!
I had to smoke a lot of cigarettes to get those crazy thoughts to stop.
I didn’t know what to do with that wild throng of heretical thoughts inside me, let alone that fierce pang of homesickness, so I just smooshed them down like a ball of aluminum. Then I tried to hide it in my pocket, which didn’t work amazingly well.
It took a few more months of pressing it all down with everything I had before I imploded. In the end, I pressed so hard I almost broke myself and I left my marriage in pieces. I made it out alive, but just barely.
But I don’t feel sad when I think of that miserable girl on the floor. I feel tingly and excited for her. I know that this pain is the way out of her numbness. I know that she is about to blow her life open bigger than she could have ever hoped for and it’s going to lead her to wholeness.
In fact, if I could go back to that miserable girl on the floor, I would tell her,
Honey, GET UP. The homesickness isn’t trying to hurt you. It’s trying to help you. It’s going to do anything it takes to get you to walk out of this apartment and city and life and follow it until you’re home.
I would tell her that she doesn’t know it yet but she’s a fucking cathedral, and her only true home is when she finally learns to live inside herself.
Why am I telling you this story today?
Well, I was thinking about it yesterday in my kitchen. I was making dinner. A big pot bubbled in front of me and the rice cooker was steaming.
I pulled out the green rectangles from the cupboard–House Vermont Curry, of course. I dropped them in the pot.
And I knew I was home.
Listen to me– don’t stop until you get home.
P.S. If you want my personal help finding your way home to yourself, I have room for one more private client right now. All details here.