On Redefining “Home” and Breathing Through “The Squeeze”

Hi friends. So, as I mentioned before, my absence on the blog is largely a result of my super jam-packed busy schedule —(teach, lesson plan, workout/yoga, shower, lesson plan, sleep. repeat the next day, but sub one set of lesson planning with research and job-applying. repeat. #exhausted!)—but it’s also because of feelings. Big ones. Ones that make it hard to write cheery blog posts, you know?

So I thought I’d share with you something I wrote on the plane ride back to Boston after I attended a conference in Chicago last weekend. It was really hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that flying “home” meant flying away from the Midwest. Here’s what resulted.


It took me a while to change the “current city” on my Facebook from Minneapolis to Boston. I started the process slowly, removing a picture of my favorite Minneapolis landmark from my cover photo slot, then adding to the “work information” section the job that brought me here in the first place. When I finally changed my location, I felt sad—not necessarily because I was currently living in Boston (although there certainly have been moments when that has been the exact cause of sadness), but more because there was no place left for Minneapolis. Facebook gives you a maximum of two places with which to associate yourself: Hometown and Current City. Missing from that, for me, are Chicago and Minneapolis, the two cities that held me close for the most formative years of my life. (You can read some of my love letters to them here.)

When I was 19, I used to listen to this song on repeat. I would belt it out, picture the dramatic apexes of my teenage love stories, of all the ones who broke my heart and the ones whose hearts I broke back. The loss of romantic love. “Where does the good go?”, me and Tegan and Sara would wonder desperately. But today that question begs me to wonder the same thing about all the other kinds of good, too. Where does the good go when you leave ‘home’? Where does the good go when you leave community? Where does the good go when you’re 28 years old and have your roots, your histories, and your (chosen/)families in three different Mid-west cities? Where does the good go when you up and abandon it?

At times, I know exactly where it is: nestled in the laugh lines that cradle my eyes, cozied in the calluses on my feet from heel-walking on their sidewalks, and vice-gripped around my heart when I think of the relationships I’ve left behind. Other times, I feel like it—‘the good’—is gone from me entirely, the weight of impermanence heavy as a cast iron.

When I left Cleveland, the loss was something I had been prepared for as a natural progression for life at 18. I felt the pull of big-city living from a fairly young age, and I knew I was going to depart Ohio for school. So when I left behind my loving family and dear high school friends, I was sad, but I was ready. And I wasn’t alone. Every fall, the energy of thousands of high school graduates going off to college supports them through the transition. The universe was full of us, and it got me through the hardest parts, knowing I wasn’t alone.

Leaving Chicago after six years of magic was much harder. It almost felt impossible, but my desire to be an academic pushed me through. It also helped that I moved for grad school and landed with a bunch of other late-20-somethings who were also figuring putting off “real life” in favor of more school. I was tremendously lucky to find human beings in that bunch that became sisters, family, people I’d do almost anything for. In our liminal state between school and grown-up jobs, we lived the realest, fullest life, together. And so, although I never thought it would be possible, leaving Minneapolis felt almost harder than leaving Chicago.

A lot of this had to do with the fact that taking my first “real” job—(which is, of course, somewhat laughable because I’ve been teaching college for six years now, just lacked a title and a paycheck worthy of being taken seriously, apparently. hashtag, why academia is fucked up)—meant no longer having a built in support of sharing the proverbial boat with others. When I moved to Boston, I came into a job where no one else is new. That’s how grown-up jobs work. No group of people with whom to share the exact same experiences, because no one is navigating it as brand new at the same time as you. Couple that with the fact that Boston turns out to be one of the most expensive and difficult cities to get around, and add a side of kind of hating my apartment and new neighborhood, and you have yourself a recipe for the blues.

Despite having Mike, and a few Chicago-friend-transplants who now live in Boston, being in a new city has still required negotiating the ways in which leaving one’s “home” to make another “home” is kind of the hardest. I have found myself doing what I try to avoid at all costs: regretting things. I found myself looking at the lives of people who haven’t made the decision to move around and uproot themselves, and I felt jealous.

Regret? Jealousy? So not yogic.

Fortunately, in the midst of this transition, I was gifted a copy of Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. Pema has been giving me healthy doses of #realtalk, reminding me that things are temporary—good and bad—and that it’s always in process. There will never be a magical point when we make a decision that solves a problem with any real finality. There will never be a point in life where we reach a permanent state of happiness or content, and so we must learn to work with those hard times, or what Pema refers to as “the squeeze.” Through that, Pema is reminding me to feel gratitude for the hard times. It’s what life is. She writes:

“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” (p. 8)

What a pill to swallow, right? It’s big advice—necessary advice—but it’s tough to put in practice.

I am trying as hard as I can though. Trying to sit with the discomfort of negotiating my precarious sense of “home.” Trying to make space for the sense of loss I feel when I think of my far-away friends and family. Trying to be emphatically present when I do feel joy—(like when I walk around my new campus, or have a great “teaching moment,” or enjoy the tea at my new coffee shop, or discover a charming park on my morning run…).

I miss a lot of things and I often feel groundless, but I’m also starting to realize that feeling grounded and stable has a lot to do with our perspective more than our circumstances. (Of course, this runs counter to my social justice politics that is rooted in acknowledging the reality that there are “haves” and “have-nots” and that you can’t just “think-positive” out of certain systems of oppression, but that’s for another discussion).

The point is, there are these moments when I feel unfettered by past and unconcerned with future. Moments I’m just in it. And I’m going to make an effort to have more of those rather than less. And before I know it, another year will pass and I will see how silly it was to ever believe that anything was insurmountable.



How do you take care of your heart during difficult times? Do you have multiple “homes”? 

14 thoughts on “On Redefining “Home” and Breathing Through “The Squeeze”

  1. angela says:

    I just want to give you a big old hug after reading this! I’ve yet to find anything that feels conclusively like home and community and it’s something I long for.

    • raechel says:

      Oh Angela, thank you so much for saying that. I’m sorry that you’ve struggled with similar things…I hope we both find ways to breathe through the challenges. <3

  2. Kibby says:

    Raechel, just remember amongst all the things that are flying around you (like a tornado) or thru you – it is a perspective (see yourself in the center of the storm – in the calm). Remember, that you are loved (hello, me over here!) – you are in my thoughts and you will grow from this into something you are supposed to. xo

  3. Katie says:

    Lovely post as always. I can relate to this so much. I recently moved to Europe for the military, and met a lot of people on base who were getting ready to leave. Many of them were telling me how sad they are to have to leave. Most of them were really bummed about moving back to the states, but one lady was like “thank goodness my family is sad to leave; that means we found something here we needed.” I really liked that, and kept it in mind while choosing a house to move into. In general, I know I want to be absolutely devastated to leave/move every time….because that means I’ve gotten my needs met. Chances are, each new place will supply us with our needs if we let it. Hope so at least :)

    • raechel says:

      Thank you for the empathy! I love what you said about it being a blessing of sorts to have something worth being sad about. There’s a Winnie the Pooh quote that says “How lucky I am to have found something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” So true! Thank you for the reminder. <3

    • raechel says:

      Thanks for the comment. I like it when people can relate…Makes me feel less alone. Pema’s words also make me feel less alone….er, actually, Pema’s words make me feel more present and capable of sitting with alone-ness actually. Either way, it helps. <3

  4. Natalia says:

    I have left so many homes, and made so many new ones… I can really, really relate. Beautiful post. And I loved this: “At times, I know exactly where it is: nestled in the laugh lines that cradle my eyes, cozied in the calluses on my feet from heel-walking on their sidewalks, and vice-gripped around my heart when I think of the relationships I’ve left behind.” <3

    • raechel says:

      It’s so hard to create and remake over and over again, isn’t it? And yet also so lovely to have love in so many places. lyyyfe. Thanks for the comment, gal. <3

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