A few days ago, I celebrated Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year on the island of Maui. As I listened to the familiar words that were being chanted in synagogues around the world, my heart pined for the presence of my loved ones who are one or many oceans away.
The Rabbi’s 16 year-old son participated in the leadership of the service. This in itself was nothing unusual. It’s expected for a rabbi’s son to be well versed in Jewish liturgy. What was unusual is that the Rabbi’s son, having been born in Hawaii and also having indigenous Hawaiian roots on his mother’s side of the family, is as proficient in Hebrew as he is in Hawaiian pidgin. The rabbi himself was born in LA but comes from an old Jerusalem family. This year, the rabbi chose to visit his family in Israel and asked his Israeli-born nephew to serve as the cantorial soloist. As I listened to the ancient Hebrew words being sung by a native Hawaiian and an Israeli-born man of European and Middle Eastern heritage, the anthropologist in me reflected on the transnational nature of modern society and how identities that were once solely place-based have transitioned into something more ethereal. However, as the chanting of familiar tunes continued, this intellectual voice was soon subsumed by a larger, more powerful feeling that rumbled from within my chest: A feeling of “home.”
There are three places in the world where I have lived long enough to know the shortcuts through the side streets, the best places to look out onto the horizon and the gardens with the most fragrant the roses. I can call each of these places “home,” but doing so feels like an incomplete definition.
I used to think home was a place where I knew my way around, knew a lot of people and felt completely grounded, centered and complete. However, once I had travelled and lived in a number of places, I began to think of home as a state of being where I could feel these same sensations without being anchored in my concrete surroundings. But today, as the ancient words stirred my heart I had a different experience. I simultaneously felt a vibrant, unsettled yearning for people and places that were far away, and I felt at home.
A new definition of “home” is taking shape for me. It is no longer a static place. It’s also not a place where the fluctuations of the mind are calm or where everything is safe. Home has now come to mean a state of being where it’s ok to simultaneously feel longing and belonging, where memories flow through me with joy and sadness, where it’s safe to sit with heartwarming feelings as well as discomforting ones. Home has come to mean being present with the wholeness of my being while living in a uncertain, disjointed yet wonderous transnational world.