Home and Away

We know who we are at home, where all is familiar. But who are we away?

When I was a kid, going to Ole Miss football games with my Dad was kind of everything to me. I didn’t yet know about travel, or drinking, or girls, or hiking, or anything else that later would get me excited. So when Dad and I were at the game, watching our team together, everything seemed to be exactly in place.

And, in fact, those games were in a place: Oxford, Mississippi. That’s where we tailgated, walked to the stadium, took our seats, usually saw our team lose, and then commiserated together in the car afterwards, in time for dinner at home with Mom. They were home games.

And then one time when we saw them play somewhere else – away.

The city was different, the stadium was different, the seats and the view were different, we ate in a restaurant afterwards instead of home with Mom … but at some point I had a kind of epiphany: We were watching the same team, just on a different field and in different colored shirts. Same players, same plays, usually the same result. Just … away instead of at home.

This may seem obvious, but to 10-year-old me it was really something to think about. It wasn’t like there was a home team and an away team. It was the same team! The entire experience was different, new, and exciting; but at its core it was the same: Me, Dad, and the Ole Miss Rebels.

I’ve been thinking about this lately as I settle into a new life in Madrid. Almost everything about my experience right now is different: the language (which I don’t yet speak), the customs, the way everything works, my (so far) lack of friends, my lack of routine, all of it.

The more time I spend here, however, the more a similar epiphany shows up in little spots: I’m still me. I am building a life here which will always look different but at its core be the same, because the person at its core will be the same. I will do the same work I did before, have the same values and aspirations as before, figure out the hikes, find friends, pick my own neighborhood, make my apartment my home, get into a routine, all of it.

To say the least, that process comes with some confusion at times. For example, my initial community in town is the local English-speaking 12-Step crowd. I enjoy and appreciate them very much, and yet I already find myself keeping my distance just a little – like when they go out for dinner after a meeting and, for me, it’s just too late and too loud. That’s not who I am. I’m a guy who likes quiet conversations and wants a good night’s sleep before he goes hiking tomorrow. I also, apparently, like to hike more often and farther than most of them, so apparently I will hike alone fairly often – at least until I find my hiking crowd. Which I will do.

I also recently returned here with three pieces of checked luggage in the hold, filled with more clothes and outdoor gear but also with pieces of home: my blanket, my pillow, my mousepad, my favorite coffee mug, my stuffed animals, a couple pieces of artwork … These are small and superficial things, but just like Dad and I, when watching Ole Miss play on the road, sat with our fellow fans and wore our regular colors, I am also going to make my Madrid life, in many ways, like my Portland life. Because it’s still my life.

On a deeper level, I need to remember that under all the colors and other details, I am the same person. I am changing and growing, which is a big part of why I moved, but I’m still me. The ways I connect with people will be the same, even if (some day!) in a different language. My love of hiking is going nowhere, and in fact it will be invigorated by new trails, mountains and views. I will still be a recovering addict going to meetings. I’ll go to a new gym but do the same exercises I did before. I will learn a new language and make people laugh in that one, too. I might even get back to writing more.

And the longer I work at it, the more I look past the differences and let go of the expectations, the more in touch with my actual self I will be, no matter where I am. And then I will have my life … in Madrid. That’s the plan, anyway!

I lost Mom and Dad years ago, and I moved on from Ole Miss a long time before that. But I’ve still got me. I still have home. And now I have a long string of away games I get to play, as well.