Returning, with a Wrinkle

This post isn’t an essay on the dangers of sun exposure, though (as the daughter of a melanoma murder victim) I always encourage SPF. Instead, it’s an assembled collection of thoughts on the meaning of home, personal growth, and the pitfalls and privileges of having a home and a town to return to every once in a while. It’s not as romantic [cheesy] as it sounds– this article was inspired by that most elusive of muses, Netflix and a pretzel binge. If you read on, I’ll keep it brief 🙂 Bargain?

One of my professors at Columbia particularly likes to point out moments in a text where the author has chosen to repeat something, either verbatim or paraphrased. Even if it’s the exact same set of words, he explains, it can never just be the same thing twice. Whether a word has changed, or because you’re seeing it again, in a new context, or even just because of the inevitable passing of time since the first instance, repetition is always “repetition with a wrinkle”. You can never say, or do, the same thing again without adding a new dimension of meaning to the utterance.

In life, this feels similar to me to the old adage “there’s no going back”. I think about this a lot when I return to a place– because, spatially speaking, I have “gone back” a lot in my life, bouncing back and forth between my first home in NH, my second home in NJ, and various adopted homes in New York for vacations, jobs, and in-between-times. I’m home now, just for a couple of days, heading back to the city tomorrow to finish out the semester, but even this brief little respite has brought latent doubts and fears crawling back into the light. How can I return, “go back”, and still feel like I’m progressing as a human? What does it mean to leave and return and leave and return again?

Mindfulness has made this process easier than it once was. Sleeping in my childhood bedroom once felt strange, even dangerous– when it was comfortable, I freaked out that I was regressing, and when it felt weird I freaked out that I was losing the concept of home I’d always relied on to ground me. I’ve found that these fears are both untrue and, in fact, nothing to be afraid of. I can be aware when I start to revert to old habits, slipping into behavioral and emotional patterns that no longer serve me. I felt this on my first night home, as I mindlessly grazed on foods that I would never normally eat, stayed up late watching Netflix, and forgot to meditate. Now, as ocular proof of my own self-awareness, I’m writing about it. With these words, I remind myself that I can inhabit this old, familiar place as a new, evolved me and still feel at home. The memories are all still here, but I don’t have to become them– I can feel gratitude for the wonderful childhood I had in this house while returning to it as an adult. Like the decor, the appliances, and the handmade art on the walls, home has grown with me. As I return once more this summer to teach dance, practice yoga, and reconnect with this community, I can reach into the familiar world of my childhood with new skills, new eyes, and renewed curiosity; as a young adult, who has gone out into the world to learn and grow and who will continue that venture, pausing every-so-often along the way to return here, to give back to the place and community that gave me my start in life, and to remind myself how far I’ve come.

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