Home reminds us of who we are and once were

I flew to California on the 16th, a week before Christmas week. I was able to string enough vacation days to grant me time to stay in LA for two weeks. LA welcomed me in the same way as it always has; the familiar sights of bright, flickering lights like stars on the ground and structured into a grid stirring my feelings of home as we descend from thousands of feet high. I hurriedly made my way through the airport, the “Welcome to LA” signages greeting me like a prodigal daughter who has finally returned. I waited a few minutes for my parents to pick me up, and upon their arrival, we whizzed through the freeways that I used to frequent to find my way home.

When I’m in Chicago, I have always felt that I’m a Californian girl at heart. I constantly miss the west– the progressive thinking, the obsession on health and fitness, the experimental artistic drive, the general sense that in this place, creativity is nurtured. I imagine the coastal cities share these like NY and SF, as well as college towns. Chicago is many wonderful things, but I have not experienced it quite reaching the heights on these factors. Perhaps I need to work harder in finding people involved in the progressive, fitness and arts subcultures. It may not be as apparent. Even if I don’t see them, it would be surprising if a large, important city as Chicago don’t have people who are passionate about these three. I know they’re there.. somewhere.

In Los Angeles, while I know I’m home, I was surprised how different I had become since the days when I lived here. My interactions with my family brought this to the surface, and our house was filled with reminders in the form of pictures, notes, tokens, and clothes. I was not only transported back to how I was 2 years ago, but I was made aware of the distance between then and now. I interpreted this in both positive and negative ways. I’m amazed and proud of how much I’ve grown as a person, which is not always so discernible in the day to day. On the other hand, I wonder if my personal growth is also causing a distance between my and my family. They do things as they’ve always done, in the same place. They have also grown in many ways but not as much as I have, with my exposure to a different city other than where we had settled after we migrated.

It is so gratifying to feel we’re growing. Yet this feeling is so fleeting, all we know most of the time is the point where we currently are and where we were once. The growth that happens in between is mostly left unspoken, unless we have mementos that act as reminders such as a journal, a written note, or a captured conversation. Speaking of written notes, I was going through some photo albums while at home, and my mom being the ever-so-diligent documenter of experiences and memories for our family, I chanced upon an album containing letters that my father had sent us from Riyadh when we were kids. The letters were typewritten individually for each kid, and they were filled with greetings, advice, encouragement and gift notes. Compared to the letters my siblings received, mine also contained some math and science puzzles that my father asked me to solve. The letters were accounts of our childhood selves, and it helped not only trigger memories but allowed me to understand how I was as a kid. My father’s letters told me I was an analytical, curious kid who had encouragement to be assertive and participatory, qualities that I still value to this day.

My holiday vacation is winding down and I will be back in Chicago in two days. It feels like I was here for a good stretch of time, and in the same way, I feel like it hasn’t been enough. And that is the reality of growing up. We realize our time is fragmented and ever more so with the increasing demands for our attention, but we do the best we can, when we can. I’m off to maximizing the rest of my time in LA with family 🙂