You might expect a post like this from someone who's favorite television show is Rick Steves' Europe on PBS. Because for all the site-seeing that Steves does, he often highlights the simple act of embedding himself in the culture. He shows off good walks. He visits friends and has dinner with them.
He doesn't just highlight what you need to visit and check off a list, he makes himself one of the locals by doing things a local would do and hanging with people a local would. He's a a tourist who's made Europe home. He walks the streets no other tourist does, and that's what helps him really feel like the fantastic, the foreign, and the wonderful can become a part of who he is, and not merely just what he does.
I remember that same feeling the one and only time I was in London. There were lots of amazing things to see: Kew Gardens, the Tower of London, the Globe Theater, Buckingham and Kensington Palaces, the made-up residence of Sherlock Holmes, the British Library, and the list goes on. But after a few days of doing that, I just wanted to walk around. I wanted to walk the streets no one else did. I wanted to sit in St. James park and read Dickens (and I did). I simply wanted to take in the city as if I were a Londoner.
I was ruminating upon this simple idea this past Friday. Fridays are my day off, and I share some babysitting duties with a friend in order to have a few hours to myself. In those hours, I like to walk or jog around various Denver neighborhoods, and this Friday I was jogging around Cheesman Park and Congress Park. Besides the fact that I was jogging in a neighborhood with houses I'll never be able to afford, I still felt home. You see, this is one of my habits. I regularly go strolling through random Denver neighborhoods, and I've done this with many of Denver neighborhoods in my 5 years of living here. "Downtown" isn't merely a cool place to visit or have a nice apartment. Downtown is mine.
That's because I have this crazy idea that you can't really call a city home until you walk the streets regularly. It's not home until you know the house on every city block that people normally bypass since it's not an easy way in or out of the city. It's not home until you've walked the untrendy places (Curtis Park) as well as the trendy ones (Wash Park). It's not home until you've had an ordinary meal in an ordinary- as opposed to chic- restaurant that isn't visited by anyone else except the patrons in the neighborhood.
And even still, Denver isn't home. I'm only going on living here my 6th year, which is a common phenomenon in Denver. It's a popular place to move to, but not a common place to be from. Yet when I go home to Tennessee, that doesn't feel completely like home anymore either. Anyone else who returns "home" for the holidays and then goes back to where they currently live understands what I'm talking about.
This idea of place, of belonging, and of not even knowing how to belong causes a great disruption in the existential peace we need in American culture. Most don't walk city streets regularly just for fun. And not even that would be enough to overcome the need we feel to be home.
Chesterton noted in his famed book Orthodoxy that we have to love this world so much to call it ours but hate it so much in order to change it. It's got to be the place we go home to at night and at the same time the place we wage war. Perhaps it's the war part that gives us so much angst. We move based on jobs or we lose jobs and can't live where we'd prefer. We're never completely home, even when we are geographically.
There's a longing, as C.S. Lewis articulated, that no reality of home can ever really truly satisfy. To Lewis, and to me, that must mean we were meant for another world.