when you reach your mid-30's, you start to experience what i call "grown up" moments. times when you're struck by the blinding realization that the light, carefree days of your youth are over, and the constructs by which you live your life have changed.
buying a home. landing a job. having a baby. losing a parent. facing an illness.
when you experience these moments—whether good or bad—you are reminded that life can be heavy. lightness, optimism, invincibility give way to responsibility, uncertainty, fear...of the future, what comes next, and where it leaves you.
my recent "grown up" moment happened on a trip home to visit my parents. after living in and taking care of our house, alone, for six years after my mom's passing, my dad informed us that he was ready to sell the house. the house that he and my mom built from the ground up. the house that embodied who they were as people—warm, casual, welcoming, and most often the centering point for both friends and family. the house that i spent 26 years calling "home."
rationally, i completely supported the move. too big to maintain, too full of clutter, and too much of the past to allow my dad to fully move on. he needed—and deserved—a clean break.
but it was strange that this would be my first time "home" since he had moved all the furniture out of the house. how would i feel? sad? betrayed? empty?
teary-eyed throughout the weekend thinking of this monumental change—of letting go of something that was so much a part of my connection to my mom—i dreaded stepping through the door.
"ok, brace yourself."
i took a deep breath. when i walked in, i felt...shockingly...nothing. the a/c was off. the air was dank. the rooms were empty. there were dust bunnies strewn across the floor.
this lack of emotion wasn't stoicism, an unconscious barrier that my psyche constructed to protect me from the trauma. instead, it was the discovery that this house was no longer "my home."
my parents had picked out every brick, every tile—and each texture was seared into my brain. i looked around and could remember vividly the times spent in each room.
the large blue family room: friends and cousins crashed out on the couch, only to be awakened by my dad, clanging pots and pans while drumming up a delicious breakfast. my brother, banging out off-kilter melodies on the piano while i tried to watch soaps. the room packed to the gills with family members belting out christmas carols before opening presents at midnight.
the kitchen: filled with songs and aromas and good old home cooking sprinkled with secret ingredients that only my dad knew. never clean enough for my mom, who would get down on hands and knees to wipe away the oil splatters surrounding the kitchen stove. untold hours spent, knives in hand, peeling, dicing, marinating, gossiping—until we all sat down to share the meal.
outside: the garden lush with vibrant fruits and vegetables, sunny flowers surrounding the entire perimeter, and my dad outside watering, perspiring, but always with a smile on his face. and our sweet, fluffy, loyal, ever-grateful-to-be-rescued dog, "penny patawaran," following behind my dad in complete contentment.
upstairs: hilarious memories of screaming matches and doors slamming as my brother and i duked it out during angst-ridden teenage years. hiding under my bed with my cousins (all 5 of us) when our alarm accidentally went off, armed with kitchen utensils, preparing to meet our doom. laying in bed and wondering where and how we'd end up someday.
and here i was saying goodbye to this house. so why did it feel so natural? my "grown up" revelation was this: try as we might to hold onto things—especially physical ones—so tangible, in our sight, in our grasp—they aren't where meaning lies. the memories reside in our heads, in our hearts. they stay with us long after we say goodbye to the physical.
we can't prevent circumstances from changing. we all must move on. move forward. but things like "home"—they're not a place in the physical sense, but rather a place within—that anchors us, gives a sense of history, makes us who we are.
...before we left, we took one last walk around the yard. as we stood there, taking it all in, a striking blue butterfly fluttered by our heads. she landed on a branch of evergreen, and even when we moved close to snap some pictures, she didn't move. she just sat there, perched in the tree, as still as can be.
when i think about home, i realize it's not about letting go at all. it's about clinging to and cherishing that place.