“Where’s home for you?” It’s a question you hear time and time again when you travel. It’s asked innocuously, and I answer in kind: “Canada” or “Montreal” (or both), but if I’m honest, I don’t really know the answer—especially these days.
The first few definitions of the noun “home” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary are: “1) place of residence; 2) the social unit formed by a family living together; 3) a familiar or usual setting: congenial environment; 4) the focus of one’s domestic attention.” Following this structure, currently ‘home’ for me would be: 1) Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 2) n/a; 3) maybe my parents’ place in London, Ontario?; 4) see #1 (though saying this apartment is the focus of my ‘domestic attention’ might be a stretch… I pay someone to give it most of that attention).
But, saying that Puerto Morelos is home for me rarely satisfies the asker. “No, I mean your REAL home.”
My real home.
Most of us are probably familiar with the expression, ‘home is where the heart is.’ I can say definitively that as a young child, that place for me was my house on Epworth Ave, in London, Ontario. My safe harbour, my warm blanket, the place of homemade pies and hiding spots and real Christmas trees and running through the sprinkler in summer, where my best friend lived across the street and where our doors were always open. For the first nine years of my life, that was home.
Then in 1978 we moved to the suburbs, life took a sudden, devastating turn with the death of my father, and everything got blurry.
Forty-five years have passed since then. I’ve lived in Toronto, Montreal, and Budapest, but none of them ever felt to me like what we might typically think of as home. They were just the places I lived.
Now I’m on a beach in Mexico. I let go of my super-cheap apartment in Montreal and my remaining possessions are crammed into a storage unit in Lachine; my mail is being forwarded to a friend’s home, and a boxful of business-casual fashion capsules is being shuttled all over the continent for me so that I can show up for work in various destinations dressed in something other than flip flops and my tattered “One Love Jamaica” tank top. I have a card in my wallet that says I am a temporary resident of this country. So, where is home?
Mimine, my gentle, elegant, ancient, love-ball of a cat, made me feel like I had at least part of the answer. For 13 ½ years she was my starting point and my destination; a living being I was responsible for, who always made me feel needed and relevant. Wherever I went, there was always her to come home to.
Until, one recent day, there wasn’t.
Once I had processed my grief and moved through the pain of loss, questions loomed large. If she was no longer my responsibility, who or what was? What was I doing here? What was I doing, period? Where was my heart?
From the day I made the decision to move Mimine to Puerto Morelos with me, I had proclaimed, “When she’s gone, so am I.” I love this little town, but there is so much Mexico to discover, and at 92 in human years I could hardly haul M around the country with me. So, we happily settled into this familiar, friendly place.
Now, a little over a month since her transition, an epiphany: perhaps she was calling my bluff. Daring me to walk the talk and do the same as she – move on to the next adventure. To carry on living the daring life I had introduced her to.
This and that happened. I clicked on a few things, asked a few questions. Suddenly, I was booked solid for a summer of pet sitting in the Lake Chapala area, in the state of Jalisco. Located 5,200 feet above sea level, Lake Chapala is the largest freshwater lake in Mexico. Due to its location, the area enjoys low humidity, lots of sunshine, and pleasant temperatures year-round. National Geographic recently rated it the second-best climate in the world. Not surprisingly, it is also home to Mexico’s largest concentration of North American retirees and expats.
Not sure it’s exactly my scene (I love Mexican people, culture, music, and food—will I be able to find it there?), but it’s a golden opportunity to discover a new part of this vast, fascinating country—and at minimal cost, since I will be trading my services for free accommodations.
It is taking a monumental effort to crawl out from under this weighted blanket of inertia. I am extremely comfortable here. What’s more, I fear I will miss the beach. But there’s more to Mexico than the beach, and more to life than fear (or comfort, for that matter). It feels like the right move. Despite the fact that I am essentially a hobo, I feel less lost than I did at the time of Mimine’s passing. I’m in Mexico to explore, so explore is what I’m going to do. I’ve found my spark again.
M now rests in the lush, shady green of the Mayan jungle, where the other big, courageous cats roam free. She is my heart, and she will always be with me. And in that knowledge lies the answer to the question: Home, then, is not where the heart is; but rather, heart is where the home is.
“I run from place to place, wanting to belong, wanting to find a home. When will I learn that my home is within me, and it comes with me wherever I go?” ~ Najwa Zebian
3 thoughts on “Mexico 2023: Heart is where the home is”
What a beautiful piece of writing. Wise and heartfelt. I look forward to talking with you this summer at my sister Marie’s place; she told me you would be there. And I’m so sorry for the loss of your long time companion. It’s never easy. Good luck at your new place .
Well thank you, new follower! High praise coming from you. And thank you for your condolences. Really looking forward to seeing you this summer too.
I’ve struggled with answers to the question “Where are you at home?” for most of my life. Having lived or spent a lot of time in foreign countries (Canada, Spain, Switzerland, Australia, Argentina) over the last 50 years, I haven’t found the answer yet. Frankly, finding the right term for my living environment is not important. What does count is your happiness. You can be happy in places you would never consider home. And you can be the saddest person on earth at a place everybody thinks you would call home. If you are happy, you carry your home with you and your home carries you, no matter where you go. But happiness is a tricky thing. Like home, you’re sometimes not sure if you are blessed with it or not. I like Françoise Sagan’s quote: “You rarely know what luck is, but you usually know what luck was.” Maybe that goes for “being home” as well.