I have lived in and called home three places: Salt Lake City, UT; Alma, MI; and now Princeton, NJ. Until this afternoon, at 1:00PM, I had been reticent to call Princeton my home. For, you see, I need to fall in love with a place and hear it speak to me before I can call it home. I have fallen in love with the people in a particular place and, in so doing, have been able to be comfortable living there (Charlotte, NC, for instance, where my mother, father, sister and nephews live), but I have not yet been able to call a location HOME, unless I have fallen in love with it.
Falling in love with something on a map is not exactly like falling in love with people. I knew I loved my eldest nephew from the first minute I saw him, mere moments after he had been born, his small, rumpled form held in my sister’s tired arms. I cannot remember the transformative moment when wide-eyed dependency upon my parents for sustenance became affection for the lovingly imperfect humans that they are, but I can recall the moments in my young adulthood when I made a conscious decision to love them, disregarding the monstrous angst that threatened to overwhelm me. I can pinpoint each step in loving my wife so far, from acquaintance to interest to romantic possibility all the way to a still blossoming love. In each of these relationships are the seeds of loving a place, but with one great difference. In my experience, places don’t begin to speak to you until you love them.
Similar to my experience with my parents, my love of Salt Lake City, the home of my birth and my upbringing, is dim and hazy at the beginning, but full of decisions to love despite its flaws. Likewise, my love for Alma, my second home, parallels my love for my wife, a step-by-step process. But in the human relationships, while I was still learning about my love for them, the people spoke to me, gave me reasons, inspiration. I interacted with them, pondered them, held them. I do not do this with places until I already love them; they do not speak to me until I do.
Today, at 1:00PM, with no forewarning, I understood that I loved Princeton, NJ. I realized that I could love this place, this geographical oddity, this garden stop on the road between Philadelphia and New York City, and Princeton began to speak to me. It was as if scales dropped from my eyes, my ears popped and I shed my winter coat. Until this afternoon, I might have been watching a silent movie, but no longer. Princeton began to speak to me. As I walked out of our campus dining center, I was overcome by warm sun-glow on the flowers, birds softly weaving their melodies, and people walking by in conversation. Held back by the winds of a gentle affection, I stood on the cafeteria porch, unable to move, or perhaps unwilling, filling my senses with a new home. Princeton began to speak to me. Or perhaps I finally listened. And now I can call it home.