When asked “what is home,” the biggest temptation is to describe geography. It is easy to underestimate what makes up “home” as a street plan overlaying terrain, as a palate of colorful buildings, as an environment of favorite trees and familiar cafe’s. But the old idea that home is more than a place is true: home is a combination of place and people, culture and tradition. We grow accustomed to the particular mixture of influences that make up our homes, this mixture becomes a part of us,we adapt to it and it adapts to us. Our identities get mixed up with our histories and locations. In this vein, part of the joy of leaving our homes to travel is removing this codependency on locale. In seeing new places and meeting new people, learning about new cultures and traditions we get a glimpse of what home looks like in foreign places. Likewise, one of the hardest things about traveling is leaving these familiar traditions and trappings of home behind and being surrounded by the unfamiliar traits of other people’s homes.
All of this has been on my mind since the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Jazzfest for short) happened in late April and early May this year (what? I’ve been busy). This huge event takes place in our neighborhood; we’re just half a block from the musicians entrance. At least 30% of the hundreds of thousands of people who attend the event walk right by our front porch. Accordingly, we have established a tradition we call Porchfest. Really just a neighborhood-wide excuse to sit on our porches and have a party, Porchfest a time when we invite our friends to our house to come and just relax, people watch, and have a good time. This year, as I sat and took it all in, I realized how much I’m going to miss it.
This is the one party a year we host, the one time we pull out the stops to connect with our extended community of friends and acquaintances. Porchfest has become an integral part of the Jazzfest experience for many people we know, and even people we don’t know who have come to expect seeing us on the porch every morning and every evening. Porchfest has become a tradition, an aspect of home, a part of New Orleans. We only have one more Porchfest left. One more chance to contribute to the culture of our home, one more chance to create home for others. Understandably I have mixed feelings about leaving this and other traditions behind. I love the way we celebrate Jazzfest, and Mardi Gras, and the long hot summer days drinking in bars, and the camaraderie of Saints games. We’re going to lose it all, and with it the parts of ourselves we have adapted to these traditions.
On the other hand, we are going to gain new traditions as we travel and adapt to other cultures. I don’t know what these traditions will be, but as our traditions change so will our definition of home. I think that’s what makes the prospect of a life abroad worth the difficulty and heartbreak of losing our deep connections with our current home. We will gain a new home, and this home will be largely centered around traditions that my wife and I, disconnected by choice from locale, will adapt to our own uses. We will create our own little nomadic culture, and yeah, I may be romanticizing a little bit here, but its exciting to think that we will be starting from scratch. No longer tied to the geography of home, our home will be defined by our habits, priorities, and traditions. With that, we will have a renewed focus on what is important to us, what makes us who we are, and ultimately, why we get up and participate in the world every day.