Last week I flew into DC. I have been there a couple of times since the pandemic but this was a longer and more official trip to host a workshop with my colleagues at New America. It felt like the before times. As the plane landed at National airport I felt, as I often do, a sense of coming home. I lived in the area for 12 years. My oldest kids graduated from high school there, my youngest was born there. It is where I got tenure. I will never forget my afternoon jogs on the mall, the mix of history, politics, and every day in the place. It was a home I loved. Where I grew some of my deepest lasting friendships.
It was a great trip. The workshop was the first small and focused one I have been a part of since COVID. A lovely mix of academics and practitioners, all at the top of their game, thinking about democracy and digital governance. A small room. Intense, knowledgeable conversation. A mix of old friends and new faces. It is a new project to me, but the workshop setting was a very familiar part of academic life. Another sort of home and one that I love as well.
I stayed with friends in my old neighborhood. I had to avert my eyes when I passed our old house (which is now a hideous green) but driving up the street, sitting in my friend’s kitchen, eating my favorite take-out Peruvian chicken, locating the time capsule we buried during our New Year’s celebration at the turn of the millennium. It felt like putting on a familiar bathrobe.
We took our old route through the park in the morning and ran into the father of one of my son’s closest friends. He is a writer, interested in politics and we had been close, though I had not seen him outside of Facebook posts for years. Such a warm embrace. And a reminder of that quintessential Washington connection between the mundane parts of life like parenting and chances to connect with amazing and interesting people.
The flood of familiarity ebbed at times, like when I took a wrong turn walking to the metro and added a not insignificant number of steps to my day. And lunching with my GW friends made me realize all I don’t know of the workings of that institution now that I have been away for more than a decade. Then inspecting the fruit at the Silver Spring Whole Foods halfway expecting to see someone I knew before realizing how unlikely it was. I really have been gone a long time.
There is that funny moment when you simultaneously feel aware of your deep understanding of a place and how you somehow don’t really belong there anymore. It was that feeling I took with me to the airport where, ironically, I stumbled on someone I had known since grad school and had thrown us a baby shower before our youngest was born. A rush of catching up before we went to our respective gates. I felt glad to be heading back but a little wistful of the depth of my ties in DC.
But then I arrived home in Denver last night. Not only to hubby and my sweet dog, but also my youngest and her partner, just moved back from New Hampshire and staying with us until they find a place of their own. We were soon joined by my middle son, daughter-in-law, and youngest grandchild. The kids cooked up a storm, insisting that I relax, sipping my cocktail and cuddling the baby and the pup. Our rollicking conversation mixed cooking and restaurant culture with outdoor adventure planning, fiction, architecture, philosophical reflection, and, of course, politics. Such a rich and full evening with my clan. I felt like yes, this really was home.
This morning, I can’t stop thinking, though, about how many places and experiences generate that coming home feeling –my parent’s house in San Diego, the ocean in Laguna Beach, even places I have stayed many times in Geneva or Manhattan. But also walking into an ISA or APSA conference, even in a new setting. All of them awaken a similar feeling even with the variety of sensibilities that attach to the different familiarities of my many homes.