I’ve lived a lot of places. Each time, I’ve come as an outsider and had to shoulder my way in. Each time, I’ve found people to love, reasons to like the place, but always, I remained Other. Never one of Them.
There is only one place in the world where I am one of Them. You have a place like that, too. For me, it’s the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The place I spent the first 23 years of my life. The place of my birth.
No matter how far I roam or how many decades pass between visits, the call to home is always present, guiding my path back like a lighthouse foghorn. My parents moved away when I lived in Eastern Europe, packing up my home base and my reason to return for holidays along with their boxes. Yet I’ve learned that whether I have relatives there or not, the Land of Pleasant Living will always be my home.
Last week, I came back to my home town of Harmony (what an idyllic name!), back to the places and people who helped form me. People who shaped me as a person: my values, my spiritual life, my history. People who showed me the heart of God. I am who I am because of the ones I love, who loved me, in that place I call home.
For each of us, there’s a certain type of geography that feels right, that looks the way we think the world should look. It’s the place from which we first peered out at the world. Mountains speak to some, deserts to others. For me, the voice that calls to me is the voice of water.
Home means lazy, winding rivers with lush green banks, marshes dotted with cattails, miles of flat farmland squeezed between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, skies filled with Canadian geese flying in V-formation. Every time I cross the Bay Bridge, I feel that old familiar thrill as I smell the briny salt water. Home. I’ve come home.
There’s no place else that I fit. In Europe, I stuck out as an American. Living in the West, I missed the history and oldness of the East. In the South, I realize I don’t understand what people are saying half the time, their speech shrouded in indirectness and aphorisms. People in North Carolina probably think of me as an abrupt New Englander, but that only shows me they don’t know any true Northeasterners.
The people I grew up with, mid-Atlantic folks who stagger either side of the Mason-Dixon Line, have a bit of an identity crisis. The North doesn’t claim us and the South calls us Yanks. We are neither. We are our own people.
In Eastern Europe, my teammates and I would think of a descriptive word to encapsulate the cultural identity of our various countries. We didn’t do this to pigeonhole people or over-generalize, but just to help us get a handle on what people valued in the places we found ourselves. For instance, the word I came up with for Romania was hospitable and for the Czech Republic it was analytical.
In the unhurried Land of Pleasant Living, we are who we are. We don’t put on airs, we’re not pretentious. I think the word I’d use is authentic.
A week ago, on a weathered wooden picnic table on a rickety dock, I ate the food I long for when I’m away–authentic Maryland crab cakes, not the woefully inadequate wannabes I find in other states. The real thing.
Like Maryland crab cakes, the Eastern Shore is the real thing. I’m proud to call it “Home.”