Coming Home, Whatever That Means

01/27/2015 08:17 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2015

"Ladies and gentlemen, please stow your tray tables. We are now arriving in Boston." I slunk down in my seat and craned my neck to get a better glimpse of the snowy mass below as we began our descent. Last one, best one, I thought.

Home is always having a delicious pile of books on the shelf that you never get around to reading because there is too much conversation to be had. Home is eating peanut butter out of the jar and having someone waiting behind you, spoon in hand. Home is having her curl up next to you on the bed, unannounced, and by the look in her eyes you know she needs to talk. Home is moments of peace, even when we feel lonely. Unpacking your suitcase. Walking around without pants on. Paintbrushes soaking in the bathroom sink. This is home.

Although Oregon will always be the place where I can breathe the easiest (not only for the moss-induced respiratory reprieve), in my life several locations have fallen under this definition of "home." Having lived with five different host families in the past few years, I have experienced the arriving-settling-homesickness-returning-wanderlust cycle (almost) too many times, uprooting my expectations every few months like dandelions with the knowledge that feeling "at home" is temporal but not rare. Yet no matter how often I do it, adapting to the rhythm of a new environment is always a little disorienting at first; I feel my tempo is always too slow or too fast for the first week or two.

But college is a different kind of home. More than unemployment, more than failure, I fear losing this sense of community (or "the opposite of loneliness," as Marina Keegan termed it) that Harvard has come to embody for me. I am afraid that, after I stop living with my best friends, my conversations will no longer be stimulating, I won't have people to text in the middle of the night, and no one will lend me their mittens when I can't find mine--irrational as these fears may be. Although Skype makes it easier than ever to keep in contact with people, I fear losing the circles of belonging we have constructed once our paths cross less frequently. With each new home comes the knowledge that there will always be people missing from our lives, despite our efforts to patch up the void.

Over winter break, between sorting through job applications and revising sections of my thesis, I let myself release some of the nervous productivity to soak up this time with my family. At my insistence, one day we took a day trip to the beach on probably the worst day of the year. The rain was sideways--just absolutely miserable--yet my brother and I leaped out of the car with our rain jackets and our audacity, running into the water that stung our eyes shut because I wanted to see the tide pools and smell the ocean. On the drive back, we stopped to feed a drenched seagull that stood stoically in the parking lot, my family laughing as we threw bread out of the car window. The moment itself didn't mean much, but then again it did, because being with people you love always means something and laughs should never be taken for granted.

This weekend I shoved sweaters and books into my suitcase for the final time, for my last semester at my home in Cambridge. To the sometimes-overheated dorm room, with our mini fridge and our mess, that somehow pulls me like a siren call despite it, too, being temporary. I always enjoy the ample time for reflection on the six-hour flight, but this time--the last time--I felt especially nostalgic. Striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to me, I didn't shy away when she asked, "Where do you go to school?" knowing it might be the last plane ride during which this question would have any relevancy. And when I showed up at my dorm room and flung my coat on the floor to hug my roommates, brushing the snow off my boots, it felt exactly like coming home.

Home may be temporary and it may be common, but it is also important. This feeling of belonging in a world with so many circles. Not knowing where my next home will be, I can only relish the time I have left in this one. Last one, best one.