“Sense of place” is an expression that has defined my entire life.
As a military kid, I found comfort in moving. New schools and home addresses indicated more than saying goodbye to friends.
Moving meant adventure, new grounds to explore, and the possibility of a bigger bedroom.
And since I attended Department of Defense schools, the main question asked after inquiring one’s name was, “Where did you move from?”
The responses were usually exotic places like Japan, Hawaii, Alaska, or somewhere in Europe. Although it was fun to compare notes on our nomadic lives, I always dreamed of calling a specific town, home.
Back In The United States
It wasn’t until I transferred to a “civilian” high school that I realized a sense of place was as important to others as it was for me. But the difference was, they had it.
When I asked my new classmates of their family origin, their chests puffed with pride. “I’m from Georgia. Four generations!” The subtext was a sense of claim to the land on which we stood.
And in many cases, it went further.
“See that bridge over there? Named after my grandpa.”
These deep-rooted, and sometimes historically tied, backgrounds embodied a territorial hierarchy.
They defined what it meant to have a sense of place.
Of course, they wanted to know where I’d been but I never had a clear answer.
It’s a bit draining to explain where you were and why and how and what it was like. Yet, I feel pangs of guilt just mentioning one or two.
So, depending on my mood and how interested they seemed, I’d just say, “Army brat,” and be done with it.
As a girl whose longest residence was, and still is, six years, there’s no way I could compete or even begin to understand what it means to inherit a hometown identity.
One time in a writer’s group, our leader mentioned that sometimes as writers, when we feel like we’re not being heard, we hide behind exclamation marks to make our point.
It struck me that I’ve wanted a place to call home because I yearned to be understood. A definite home was easier to comprehend, for me and everyone else.
But the thing is, I don’t identify with just one place. My sense of place is strewn all over the globe with each experience a part of who I am and who I’ll become.
My calendar is no longer marked with moving dates. Only the realization that it’s time to grow is what guides my sense of place now.
I know the road ahead is paved with obstacles, scattered with moments to reflect, revise, and renew.
My hope is years later when I read my journals, holding each book with wrinkled and liver-spotted hands, I’ll have gratitude.
I’ll shake my head with loving kindness and though I’ll know how the story ends, I’ll cheer myself on with every page.
Because where I end up is not what will define me. It’s what I did to get there that will matter most.