Travel writer Pico Iyer’s Ted Talk is one of my absolute favorites. Presently, my students in feature writing are embarking on writing a travel feature. We’ve talked about travel writing and what it takes to construct a meaningful piece, the elements to include, and the amount of yourself you must put into it to engage readers. Today, we discussed Taras Grescoe’s piece from National Geographic Traveler called “Roman Holiday,” titled after the 1953 film starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, in which he documents his trip to Rome in search of his own Audrey Hepburn, and allows the plot of the film to guide his trip. It’s a fun read, with his perspective on Rome included within it.
After that discussion, I had the students watch Iyer’s presentation, which asks us to take a different approach. He’s a world traveler, and writes travel pieces by trade; he is constantly in motion, moving from this spot to the next in order to write about his main subject: places and his experiences in these places. In his talk, he asks us to consider where our “home” is—is it the place you were born, where you lived most of your life, where you currently live now, or where you visit periodically and perhaps have a secondary house? Is the home of a grandmother or grandfather, or the place where you spent summers as a child? The word “home” means different things to people.
I thought about what he said about this notion, and I have a couple of answers I’d offer for myself. “Home” obviously means your house…where you live…where you go and turn the key to the door where you eat, sleep, and relax. But to me, it also means the people I am with…those I share the key with on a daily basis. In this sense, home is my immediate family: my husband and children.
I know this to be true, because when we were recently in New York City and were tired after a long day, I turned to my daughter, and I said, “Let’s head home now.”
“Do you mean to the hotel?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “That’s where home is for tonight.”
In that sense, home is wherever I was with my family.
In another sense, home is the town where I currently live. Last year, my family and I moved back to the area where I spent all of my teenage years through college, the place where I lived with my parents and brother. My son now goes to the high school I went to all those many years ago. We have made & built new friendships and, after having lived there for only a few short days, it already felt like home, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else. While I have some fond memories of our previous house in a nearby city where we lived for fourteen years, I feel much more at home where we are now. The kids are happy, and so are we.
Iyer isn’t done asking us to consider things, and continues down the path of requiring us to do some soul searching. Because we are perpetually in motion, he says, running from this task to the next, returning emails, making phone calls, working at our desks, driving to pick up children from activities, and attending to our own daily chores, he suggests that we can learn a lot from “just standing still.” What he means is that sometimes we just need to power down, turn off our devices, and sit in stillness to appreciate the beauty of the places that are around us. Ultimately, this will help us identify with the world and be able to say just what it might mean to be home. Could it be something that just simply resides within us?
For each of us, there will be a different answer. But there’s something inherent about it: we can “feel” when we are at home.