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Seeking the Familiar

We drove 15,000 + miles, slept in the homes of people we’d never met, tried new-to-us cuisine in dozens of different cities, navigated the driving habits of all the regions of the country, and every single day woke up not knowing what that particular day would bring. Yet despite embracing constant change there was a tantalizing desire to seek out the familiar.

In Brunswick, ME we stumbled upon McKeen Street – spelled the same way as Joel’s last name instead of the more common spelling of “McKean.” A house was for sale on McKeen Street. I coaxed Joel into a long conversation about if it was a sign from the universe that this was our final landing spot.

In multiple cities we discovered “Longfellow” neighborhoods – the name of our former fantastic Minneapolis hood – and I thought certainly that was not a mere coincidence.

We drove through a darling Vermont town right as our odometer hit 2903 miles – our former house number in MN – and noticed it. What did it mean? We pulled over to fill up with gas at a station outside town and I daydreamed about the possibility of life there.

The further we got on the trip the more I realized these recognizable markers were comforting in the midst of intense scrutiny, introspection, and an uprooting of our life.

Life before wasn’t all bad or all good: an instinct told us to change our lives and we listened, despite what we were giving up. I struggled knowing our choice meant a group of people we loved and liked might feel personally rejected. As the trip started even I decided what we were doing was about letting go and moving on – it was easier than embracing the complex reality of change. When the familiar markers of before kept popping up and I found myself drawn to them, I couldn’t reconcile my desire for transformation coupled with my yearning for the familiar.

In seeking change I had to resolve what I was willingly giving up. Why I was pushing myself forward while also looking back to contemplate if I’d made an enormous mistake.

It was unsurprising that Joel and my most important question of each other – one that we asked constantly – revealed some of the confusion. We asked each other: From the places we’ve been, does any place feel like home?

And what was home exactly? The place we had just left? The house I had just sold? Our places of birth? Throughout the trip people asked us the question you ask people you’re just meeting: Where are you from? Each time, Joel and I would look at each other, and then one of us would say, “Well, it’s complicated…”

We were between places: coming from a place we'd been a part of but not settled in the place to be. So without a simple way to answer where are you from? we kept asking each other: does any place feel like home? Slowly we realized we'd found many places that felt like they could be home.

We kept thinking about the party on a Vermont farm where the sky burst open with rain and we ran from a field with other party-goers to a large sheltered porch to watch the sky crash with light. To share such a moment with people we’d just met felt wondrous and made us dream of what else could be possible in this place.

We marveled at the dinner Phil and Carol made us in Portland, ME and how they talked to us about their fears and dreams with such vulnerability and openness despite only meeting hours before.

There was the meal we shared with Valerie and Isaac in a small town outside Boston, their playful puppy, and a heartfelt rumination on community that made us feel like we’d met long lost friends.

We reflected at the coffees we shared in Nashville with Ellie and Colorado with Anne and Dan – humans who found us online, invited us to meet, and made space for deeply personal conversation. Conversations good friends would have.

Nearly all of these people were strangers before our trip started – connected via a shared friend or more than one degree of separation. And yet, so many of them became people we could see in our lives, people we could become familiar with.

As the miles added up, the conversations deepened, and we found ourselves feeling at home with people all over, those déjà vu moments and recognizable markers softly revealed their meaning to me. Perhaps part of me was looking for a sign to go back to the place we left because I felt the magnitude of the community we were leaving. These moments of familiarity were teaching me how to let go while simultaneously acknowledging what instinct and desire were telling me to hold onto.

So I allowed myself to acknowledge the street names that tugged at my nostalgia, walks through towns that elicited a déjà vu feeling, and neighborhood restaurants that felt like my neighborhood restaurant. They were showing me the deeper way our trip was carving out space for the new while urging me to embrace the beloved parts of my former home.

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