Happy Valentine’s Day. While my thoughts on the holiday are a little convoluted and conflicted, I hope y’all are feeling the love today (and everyday), whether through a relationship, friendship – or place.
This weekend’s unseasonably warm weather, a community race through the local mental hospital turned public park, and an evening spent outside with friends was reminiscent of the atmosphere in which I was first prompted to write about how much I’d come to desire to take ownership of this place in which I was planted.
Though Raleigh, and my place in it, have changed a bit in the last year and a half since I wrote this piece, this sentiment remains. Originally titled “Home Ownership”, I was trying to capture the feeling of pride and belonging in place one has come to love:
Over a year ago, as my third semester of college drew to a close, I found myself subdued, exhausted and moderately confused as I struggled to organize the past year’s events in my mind. In an unusual attempt to console myself, I sat down and penned three relatively brief letters to, at that time, acquaintances, who I’d felt made those past few months more bearable in ways I couldn’t quite articulate. While each letter was unique, they all contained a variation of me expressing how “home” for me had evolved from a physical place to a concept, and that I was grateful for what they’d unknowingly done to help me conceptualize home where I was currently planted.
I can still only speculate about whether home truly is a place, a concept, or a combination of the two. However, I can say with certainty that I’ve come to fully embrace where I am, and where I’ve come from. I’ve been filled with this sensation that both Raleigh and my effective hometown of Burke, VA each embody me, and I embody them. When I first came to Raleigh for school, I grappled, grabbed, and clawed for something consistent to call my own while swirling among 30,000 or so similarly confused students. There’s something vital about having a claim to something, anything, when you find yourself in an entirely new place and can’t yet even claim your major or a modestly sized dorm room for yourself. For some, that “something” may be a friendship, a relationship, sport, church or personal interest, though the possibilities are inexhaustible.
However, I think I gravitated toward a sense of place. I immediately wanted to love where I was- the bricks, the trails, the parks, the neighborhoods, the city. I wanted to let it pull me in; I wanted to assimilate while still maintaining my individual identity. Somewhere along the way, I assumed Raleigh for myself, while simultaneously deepening my connection to my original home 250 miles away.
As blossoms give way to leaves, the weather warms, and people cautiously emerge from the refuge of their homes and offices for the summer, it’s hard not to be enamored with Raleigh. Everywhere I look, I love what I see. I swell with pride as the streets downtown are well traveled for First Friday, incredibly pleased to see the vibrancy with which changing seasons transform the city. I take pleasure in the unique vantage points from which I can view the skyline where, with only a slight change in angle, it disappears behind trees and I’m transported to a quiet, serene place. I enjoy the parks, the aging businesses that have stood the test of time, and the new ones pouring in to take advantage of the opportunities that lie here in one of the fastest growing cities in the country. I delight in knowing how to navigate this once foreign place, as there is contentment in knowing where I am and where I’d like to go. I maintain a list of places to visit- restaurants, shops and parks; I know of them now. With every passing day, I become more and more transfixed.
But this feeling isn’t unique to Raleigh. Despite the fact that some aspects of Burke become more and more foreign with every passing visit, it still resonates with me. I smile every time I’m driving and my stomach drops after I crest the hill on Lee Chapel as if I’m on a roller coaster. I celebrate when I can immediately pull up to a pump at the Express Stop; locals know it’s a rare occasion at the busiest gas station in town with lines that tend to zig and zag with no rhyme or reason. I have a story for each step it takes to run the 4.6 miles around the lake that’s witnessed birthday parties, picnics, cross country races, and prom pictures. I eagerly await when Dad recounts his exchanges with Jose at Big Bite, the pizza place we order from every Friday night. When I left for school, I didn’t know I would miss these things. Heck, I didn’t know I actually loved them, until I left and realized they were part of who I am.
I’d like to think of what I feel for these places and people as “home ownership”. To be clear, I am currently a 21 year old student finishing out the last week of her lease in a campus apartment. Needless to say, I am not an authority on the “thirty year mortgage, white picket fence, time to replace the hot water heater” type of home ownership. What I seek to articulate is more elusive, more abstract. Ultimately, ownership is about possession. Frankly, one does not simply possess a neighborhood, a city, or a region. But, in a more abstract sense, one can easily possess a feeling, desire. The bricks and mortar are unnecessary.
These places I describe do not belong to me any more than they do the next person, but I belong to them. In the memories I’ve made, they hold a part of me. For the people I see in passing every day, they hold a part of them too, though that feeling may not be as strong or apparent or accepted. In my version of home ownership, there is an inherent inclusiveness. Unlike with material things, my ownership and sense of place is not exclusive. I can claim a place, love a place and invest in a place while not inhibiting 500,000 other people from doing the same. Declaring my home ownership is not akin to planting my homesteading flag and preparing to fight off all who take one step too close. This kind of ownership does not restrict, it binds, unites, and unifies. We can share, even if we never speak to one another, connected by the microcosm in which we work and play.
Home ownership comes from having a stake in where you live, and wanting it to thrive. It’s enriched by ordinary encounters with people like Rebecca, the matriarch of a new family ice cream shop downtown. She and her husband hedged their bets here. Something made them believe in this place enough to take root. People live and work in these places, whether it’s because they sought these places out, or have been here their entire lives. There’s a certain relevance and authority in both cases.
As time passes and we grow with our places, the ones in which we’ve claimed ownership, we have the unique opportunity to see where they’ve come from and where they stand today. We can imagine where they might be going, while secretly hoping they don’t change too much; that the places that shape us remain as such. We can love these places, and they can quietly love us back, in the inexplicable joy that takes over when attempting to explain their significance to others. Our ownership is not an entitlement, but an obligation. We are tasked with sharing them, hoping that perhaps one day someone will assume our places for themselves, reveling in their own memories made and ever increasing gratitude for the places with which they, too, have fallen in love.