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Where Does Your Soul Live?
"Yep!" I said. "It sure is!" I didn't want to say anything else because I liked it better when he was actually watching where he was driving. But in a few minutes, I was going to catch a flight "home," the nice Midwestern suburb where I grew up, a place I feel a friendly affection for, but not exactly where I feel that my soul languishes when I'm not visiting it. It seems to me that "home" is where you feel understood; some people just have to travel to find it.
So why is it that some people spend their lives chafing against the place where they were born and move as far away as soon as possible, while others feel that their souls belong in this place where they come from? Is it a matter of temperament? I suspect there is some internal equation in us all that determines how compatible we are or are not with the place we happen to be born, taking into account variables such as opportunity, chance, and even the weather. In the case of Lillian Jacobs, it turned out she and her childhood home were a perfect fit: This New Yorker has lived on the same street for 100 years. According to the New York Times, Jacobs, who has lived in 5 different homes on East 84th Street in Manhattan's Upper East Side, "I don’t know why. But it seemed to be destined that I stay on East 84th."
You must read the New York Times article for the portrait of 84th Street as it evolved from a barren strip of tenements (complete with bathtubs in the kitchens and toilets in the hallways) to a leafy row of brownstones, and for a passel of moving life stories which have played out on this street. What strikes me here is how sanguine and contented Jacobs seems with her extremely localized life. While some people search the world for their soul mates and life's passions, Jacobs found it all in her small-town-like corner of Manhattan -- her husband of 72 years, a home in which to raise her family, a life worth remembering. In today's world, where so many of us scatter to the edges of the earth, and move around from place to place, there's something to be said for an existence in which, as another resident of 84th Street put it, “The life cycle is repeated in front of your neighbors."
I know a 96-year-old woman who lives in a nursing home in the tiny town where she's lived her whole life. The last time I visited her, she wheeled down the hall, muttering about being lonely. She couldn't even get through her sentence, though, because everyone who walked by -- the nurses, the other patients, visiting family members -- interrupted her to say hello, or to tell us some story they remembered about her as their school librarian, or as a young woman, or as a child. Moments from her whole life swirled around her head like a swarm of happy bees as she scooted down toward lunch.
Who knows, maybe some of our souls are more portable than others. But at the end of your life, whether you've made your home halfway across the world from where you were born, or whether you've never left the block, what a gift: to know people, to have them know you.
Home as a Place of Connection
Aging, and Becoming an Invisible Woman
The Real-Life Rosie the Riveters
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