04/15/2013 05:27 am ET | Updated Jun 15, 2013

You Can't Go Home Again, But You Can Make Yourself Your Home

A recent wave of nostalgia accompanied by trips back "home", have had me pondering why we sometimes think that what we left behind might contain something vital about who we are on the deepest level. If you feel something is missing in you, and you rediscover that what it is might be the very thing, people, family, culture you ran away from, then you are left with only one choice.

You must be able to create that "home" within yourself, and include both the old and the new, everything which made you then and makes you now, who you are. If you are running away, then you will never be at home but always running. If you stop and actually look at what you took leave from, see it for what it really is, see the people for who they truly are, and neither idealize not reject all of it, you may indeed be able to begin to make the first steps towards a new future that includes a whole and complete "You".

You can in fact become your own "Home". In fact, if you don't, you are going to be a pretty lonely person, even if surrounded by millions.

One of the most important qualities to include during this process is Kindness, for yourself, for those places and people you took leave of, and for the people and places you have chosen to make your new life. Take a step back, which at times is both easier and harder to do from a great distance. Truly seeing the core of what makes the Past the past and your present reality the life you have chosen, and accepting both with all of the faults and parts which cause you to long for what you miss and still rub you the wrong way in your present, means being ruthlessly honest.

Why did I leave? Not just the place, but the people, the lifestyle, the culture and what had always been "Home"? Was it because of the judgments, all of those elements, which felt suffocating, which kept you from thriving and becoming the best you could be? Was it because there was hurt there which was not healed? Or was it simply that you did not ever feel really at home in the place where you were born, grew up, and where those who love you wish you were, but where you know you can never be.

I recall my first trip to Europe, alone in the plane to London at age nineteen. I looked down as we arrived over the coast of Ireland and thought, "Finally, now I feel at home." It was such a deeply intuitive feeling that I have never lost it. Yet I also realize that part of what I find to be familiar here, comes from the home I left behind. I often tell people that the way my daughter is growing up in Europe is more like the way I grew up in the US in the 1970s. There is less focus on stuff and more on community. The public schools at least in some parts of Europe are still extremely good and we are lucky to have a safe and peaceful place where children can play outside, travel across the city with no fear, and where people take time each and every day to live. And back in the place where I come from, old memories have become paved parking lots and the nostalgia I have is confronted with a new reality, which no longer has the texture of what I remember. There are still wonderful people and music and food and a few places, which have understood how to keep the ambiance alive. But yet another strip mall and shopping center do not make for any kind of deep feelings humans are capable of having towards a place. The nature we have been destroying will never be the same again. The history, which loses out to one more commercial venture, cannot be replaced.

There is something to be said for a view with no human interference, no buildings, no huge, waste of air-conditioning homes. Not everything need be a chain restaurant or store. I remember my cousins' campaign to remove billboards from the Texas highways so we could enjoy the wildflowers. Thank God they succeeded.

As my daughter recently said after a trip back to the US, "Mommy people are so focused on money sometimes, they forget to live." I grew up in a place where money mattered a great deal. People defined themselves not only by money but by what money could buy, be it social status, the stuff, the spouse, the lifestyle...When I was back there recently, some old friends answered my naïve questions such as "Why did so and so marry so and so?" Their response, "The money!" I just could not believe that many people would actually make major life choices (which I naively still believe should be based on love) because of the money! I know I sound naïve, and I know people all around the world continue to make these choices, but I cannot believe that it makes for a better world. Some people back "home" were living and working in order to "make it" (i.e. make a lot of money) so that they could get on with their "real" lives. What's the point? Your life is now.

I ran into a friend the other day who knew me while I was living back in the US briefly, and he said, "You walked away from a lifestyle most women would die for...most people would not be able to walk away." It did not feel right to me and I did not feel "at home". Everything about me rejected all of that. I know a great deal of people who have walked away. People do it all the time. Maybe some call it a mid-life crisis when the man or woman looks around at their house, their life, and it all seems meaningless. I did that. I sold the house, quit the job, sold the small business and left. When people asked how I managed to do so, I replied, "I bought a plane ticket and I got in that plane".

I have never once regretted it. Perhaps there is a reason I feel at home in France where the informal national song is most surely Edith Piaf singing "Non, je ne regrette rien":

(Please visit my website to see the teaser of a documentary in progress about another Expat American woman, Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham: