The infinite quest to find the home

Since I was a little boy, I suspected there was much more to life than my limited world. Actually, I expected a second Uwe to roam around in a much bigger world living a full life.

 It’s not clear to me where this idea came from. Most likely a combination of dreams, stories, rumors, illusions and some other force I can’t name. Throughout my childhood, I envisioned this other’s Uwe life: In a big house with big windows with big views of big things to come. Escaping the limiting environment of my small town.

Today, it’s clear to me that there was never a second Uwe until I graduated from High School and left my hometown. And a third Uwe until I left Germany for Los Angeles.

The first Uwe

The first Uwe never left Bocholt, his hometown, the place where he was born and grew up. He never left the houses, streets, and neighborhoods of his childhood. The first Uwe was destined to be born in this particular corner of the world, on this particular date. He was destined to be with the families and friends of his childhood. And he was destined to stay in this place. Content. Living a life.

The first Uwe experienced a primal home. There were many reasons why he left and didn’t return home again. But the feeling of home was never as strong for the second and third Uwe. When holidays come around, the third Uwe feels a pinch of jealousy for the first Uwe.

The third Uwe provides now a home. But he has no home to return to. The old memories have become paved parking lots and the nostalgia that sometimes pours out of the third Uwe is confronted with a new reality, which no longer has the touch and feel of what was the reality of the first Uwe. And still is. The first Uwe continues to live in a place where he rides to school on a bike, watches TV on the uncomfortable couch at home and waits for afternoon coffee and pastry.

The second Uwe

The second Uwe still lives in Hamburg. He has a great life. He had many different careers, finally to settle on advertising. He has great friends, a full social and cultural life. But he always feels the need to shake things up. When life becomes too predictable, he needs to change it. But Germany doesn’t let him.

I’m not as much in touch with the second Uwe, as I am with the first one. Maybe there were too many location changes, too many career pivots, too stormy of a life to really know where the second Uwe is now. I’m sure he’s not happy. He has everything that should make him happy but nothing earthly can make him content. I’m concerned he’s regretting he didn’t try to morph into a third Uwe. Try to change life dramatically again. I can see him sitting in a cafe, stirring his coffee over and over again, lost in thought and contemplating what could have been.

The third Uwe

He was born on a trip to the United States.

Alone on a plane, I looked down as we were swinging by Manhattan and thought: “This his how home feels.” It just felt so right to be in the United States. All these chatty, open and very American people next to me. Those were my people. A feeling I never lost.

The trouble is, “my people” never thought I was one of them. Everyone I ever met in the United States has been fabulous to me. Still, I never became one of them. There’s a gap of pop culture, social upbringing, politics, world view and cultural sensitivities the size of Grand Canyon between us. Emotional connections can bridge these gaps somehow. They can never be closed. Certain things I can’t understand: The nationalism and deep affection for armed forces. The health care debate. The constant drive for dispute rather than consensus. Pledging allegiance to the flag. (I mean, seriously?) The penalty system. Dating. Brady Bunch.

While I’m a US citizen now, I don’t feel like one. I’m somewhere in between. When the US goes to war with Iraq, “they” go war. When the US elects the first black president, “we” did it. I’m stuck in the infinite limbo of immigrant reality. Never accepting full responsibility for the failures of the country I call home now. Taking full claim for anything good the United States ever does. The fact that I left two different Uwe’s behind made it easy in the beginning to adopt Los Angeles as my new home. Over time, that feeling has been overshadowed by being a stranger in a strange world. My daughter grows up in a world that has nothing to do with how I grew up or want her to grow up. Too much focus on stuff all around us, no opportunity to play outside of our parenting helicopter sphere, schools that seem strange to me.

The home within yourself

Over the years, I have been able to create a home within myself, include both the old and the new, everything which made me then and makes me now, who I am. And I have been able to create a home together with my family.

Leaving the first and second Uwe behind was never about running away from problems. It was about taking inventory what I took leave from, see for what it really is, see the people for who they truly are, and neither idealize not reject all of it.

My parents death helped me understand the core of what makes the Past the past and your present reality the life you have chosen, and accepting both with all of the faults and parts which cause you to long for what you miss and still rub you the wrong way in your present. It required ruthless honesty. And took time.

Is home really nowhere?

It took the first Uwe 18 years to morph into the second Uwe. The third Uwe has been living the exact amount of time in Los Angeles. A good time to ask the question: Will home continue to be nowhere?

While the first and second Uwe continue to live their lives, the third Uwe remains on a quest to find the home because he has nowhere to return to. I suspect that’s typical for anyone making a life-changing break(s) with their primal home.

Loudspeakers are blaring the call to prayers outside my window in Istanbul while I write this post. I feel more at home in strange, foreign cultures than at the place where I have a home address. Being a stranger in a new place feels more like home than anything else. Over the years, the very notion of home has become more of an utopian thought than a reachable destination. And, the state of foreignness is the closest I know to home.

For now, home is nowhere. And everywhere.