Listen: there’s a hell of a good universe next door; let’s go 25 March 2008Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Culture.
Having just returned from four days in Boston visiting my in-laws and friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about concepts of home, hearts split by simultaneous longing for multiple places, and the siren song of cities on the sunset edge of the continent.
I have called three cities home – Boston, Islamabad, and San Francisco – having spent the last twenty-two years of my life split almost evenly between them. Basil and I set off for the latter one week after our marriage, lured by its beauty and our shared sense of adventure, never really thinking of the long-term impacts of putting a continent between us, his family, and our friends.
The first few years after moving to San Francisco, we returned to Boston three or four times annually, drinking deep at the well of family and friends before returning to the emotional desert of the West Coast. Much as we loved the hilly beauty of our new city, Boston was still home to us.
As our sense of community deepened here, the multiple trips back whittled down to an annual one. Last year marked a turning point as Basil drove in confused circles around a North End transformed in the wake of the Big Dig; I walked down Newbury Street with a Boston map tucked into the New Yorker magazine trying not to look like a tourist though I’d lost all sense of direction; and the hard edges and curtness of the natives grated on our nerves.
When we returned to our San Francisco apartment, born and bred Bostonian Basil flopped down on the couch sighing, “Thank God we’re home!”
That was the moment when palm trees and sunny skies in November, cheerful-but-passive-aggressive people, traffic jams due to light rain, and complaining about how cold it was when the temperature dropped below 50 degrees ceased to be traits worthy of ridicule by us as transplanted Bostonians, and became, instead, idiosyncrasies understood, embraced, and fiercely cherished as San Franciscans.
California had thinned our blood and made us soft, and we loved her for it.
We’re lucky to have a beautiful community here but, to be honest, I miss my Boston sometimes: the city where I met and fell in love with my husband, where I watched my much-adored niece enter this world, where I found out that I believed in God after all. But my beloved city doesn’t exist anymore, except in my heart’s alternate universe; it is no longer my home, though I sometimes wish to claim it.
As much as we may wish to hold on, cities change until none of one’s favorite shops or cafes remain; lives move on until farewells bring not tears but a cheery “see you next year;” and one is left feeling simultaneously displaced and happy to be leaving, returning to another place now called home.
In response, my idea of home has grown beyond specific physical structures; a city’s essence is found not in its buildings, but in its people. As long as the people that I love – those who carry pieces of my heart around in theirs – live in the city, some version of Boston will remain accessible to me.
And, if friends are those with whom one’s soul feels at home, then I am not limited to just three cities to call my own. Instead, I am blessed to have many homes, next door and scattered across continents, like glowing pinpoint lights seen from a satellite on-high – a global map of my spiritual and emotional life shining brightly in the darkness.