The lessons of the road are too numerous and novel to catalog or rank with any universal tenor. For instance, a recent road has taught me this:
Raki is to be sipped slowly with water and friends.
High heels have no place on treacherous Istanbul streets.
American music is the great cultural connector.
So when a friend I met during my six week stay in Turkey this past summer asked me what I had learned there that would help me back home, my jumbled list did not produce a perfect gem of a lesson. At least not right away.
I had just returned to California when he asked me this, and “home” had changed. It no longer meant dry grassy hills, craftsmen cottages, coffee in sleek cafes and sleepy nights. Home meant waiting for the call to prayer at sundown so the fervor of night could begin; it meant slick-stoned, winding streets, sweet stray cats and the neighbors that fed them, fruit stands on the corners with lush strawberries, summer rain and street side tea in thin tulip glasses. In six weeks, Istanbul had become my home. And California, the place I had spent all my previous years, felt strange. My nights were days here, staring at the stars when my body wanted the cascading castle clouds. I felt I couldn’t even point to where I had been because the arrow of my gesture would rise against the curve of the earth and simply hit the sky.
I am tall because I am not short.
I am blonde because my hair is not black.
There is no “he” or “she.”
This trip to Turkey was the first time I had left the country on my own. I was underprepared and over zealous and didn’t anticipate the loneliness I would feel. In my first eight or so days, all I wanted was to feel the Bay air wrap around me with it’s soft, misty embrace. But then I became infused with the wanderer’s magic. I met people that became instant friends. I challenged myself to get lost just to see what I would find, to hop ferries across the Bosphorus to watch Europe fade behind me and Asia appear like a mosque-blooming mirage before me. I no longer felt far away from home. I felt like I had arrived.
In the rain, you will still sweat.
In the night, you will still sweat.
In your sleep, you will still sweat.
Here’s what I realized: I felt like I had arrived not because Istanbul felt more like a home than Oakland did. It felt like home because in the midst of the absolute unknown and conquering the fear of it, I found comfort not in place or indulgence, but in myself. I had become home.
So I wrote this to my friend:
I learned that I don’t have to depend on a certain place to be at home in the world. Wherever my body is, that’s home.
My body is home.