When you leave a place that was home for so long, it stands to reason that it takes a while to not be so painfully homesick. To some extent, as long as it’s still home in part of your heart, I’ve realized that you’ll always miss it at least a little bit. I think it’s similar to running injuries. Runners typically face two main types of injuries: acute and chronic. The acute injuries are the ones that sideline you for an undefined period of time. These are the broken bones, the torn ligaments, the things that hurt so much you can’t move because it knocks you down so hard. Then there are the more chronic injuries, such as shin splints, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis. These are the ones that you can still run on, but man, you feel that pain or tenderness in every step. Neither one is fun, and as runners, we manage each category differently.
In my recent experience, the same is true of homesickness. When I first moved, my homesickness was definitely of the acute variety. Nights spent with a roll of tissue paper were painfully common and there were times I just wanted to curl up in the fetal position and do nothing else. Somewhere along the way, it shifted to the chronic condition. It certainly flares up at times, sometimes quite painfully, but the default is a deep, accepted longing. I have friends now, certainly, and I am immensely grateful to spend more time with my family. At the same time, though, that underlying feeling remains, more present at some moments than others.
I’ve realized that whenever I encounter something that reminds me of home, it warms my heart just a bit. Whether it was the fellow at the conference in San Diego wearing a UNC sweatshirt (how I’ve missed Carolina blue!), the lady at the beach with a Tar Heels hat, the random dude in downtown LA with an NC State sweatshirt, or the guy on my kickball team from Charlotte (a city that I’m not even that particularly fond of), each contact lifts my day. It’s similar to the way that whenever I saw a California license plate while living in North Carolina, I became irrationally happy.
I’ve come to realize that these touchstones are important. Good old Merriam Webster defines a touchstone as “a fundamental or quintessential part or feature.” And sure, that may be true. Certainly, any time I see something in a particular shade of blue, I instantly think of UNC Chapel Hill. But these touchstones are so much more than merely a part or feature. They are an arrow towards a chapter of our lives, an entire bank of memories, of a plethora of emotions, of communities and people that matter.
Touchstones. A reminder of who we were or where we come from. In a world where movement may be the only constant, we may have made homes and left pieces of our heart all over the world. We might have people we love three, five, or eight time zones away. When we leave those places and those people, we’re never the same as when we first arrived. Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” The people with whom we surround ourselves have the power to transform who we are. When we leave what we know and those that became family, remembrances of these people or that which was once home can remind us of who we were at one point in time. These touchstones can serve as a tangible bridge to a piece of our past and help us to move forward into the future.
It can be a tricky balance to remember and appreciate the past, live in the present, and look forward to the future, and those touchstones can serve a vital role in establishing that balance. Sometimes it may seem like an impossible task, but it’s one worth pursuing. As I used to tell my kiddos, “If it were easy, it’d be called kindergarten.”
It’s not kindergarten; this is life. So let’s get out there, and as one of them used to say back to me, let’s do this.