I sink into the backseat of his cab and read him the address of my destination. He asks me where I’m from and I reciprocate. He’s from Afghanistan, and not much older than me. He’s been in this country for a little over a decade, longer than he’s planned. I remark that I always find it brave when people immigrate at such a young age, leaving behind the only home they’ve ever known, and indefinitely too. My dad was my age, only twenty-five years old, when he got a one-way ticket from Jordan to America and hid his net worth of $20 in his sock for safekeeping on the plane. His mom was dying and he didn’t think he’d ever see her again. He hugged her tight and said his goodbyes.
* * *
It’s fall, only a year ago, and I’m taking a late night yoga class from my favorite teacher with a friend who just got some really bad news. We unroll our yoga mats in a full, dark room. Candles flicker throughout. The floor to ceiling windows grow dense with the fog of forty people’s labored breath. The practice is physically demanding and I wonder how my friend’s doing, as she’s one of the only people I know that I’d consider less athletic than myself. For the last fifteen minutes of the class we’re on our backs and my muscles can finally go slack. My bones take on a lead-like quality, gravity weighing them down. The music stopped playing a few minutes ago and the teacher’s voice rings out over the silent dark. Over and over, she sings the Sanskrit phrase “durga jay jay ma.” The mantra means honor your protector, whoever that is for you, the teacher explains as the dust from her last chant settles over the room of tired, outstretched bodies.
* * *
I’m twenty years old and there has been an unspeakable tragedy in my hometown. I’m perched on the rolled arm of a chair in my parents’ living room and my dad sits anxiously on the couch across the from me. My sister is sixteen and she comes through the back door. Wordlessly she approaches him and collapses, all five-feet-eight of her into his lap. Her whole body writhes with sobs and my dad just holds her. After what feels like a few minutes of silently watching them, I’m startled to notice a stream of tears dripping steadily off of my face.
* * *
Back in the cab, we talk about how home is not really a place, but a feeling. It’s one you outgrow when you shed the shell of your childhood, take a big stretch, and roll out into the world. It’s up to you to rebuild it, I say, but it can be done. “How?” The cabbie asks, reading my own self-doubt, palpable even as the words leave my mouth. From within, is what I know. I’ve found it in many places, like a dressing room with my sisters, laughing so hard I can’t breathe, or a booth in a bar in a new city with old friends and the illusion that no time at all has passed. It’s the feeling of homesickness for the moment you’re in, the wish that you could bottle it and drink it when you’re lonely. Make your heart a home so you can protect yourself, and others will find safety in it, the mirrors of their souls reflecting it back to you.