I have never lived in one place as long as a decade, though I am coming close with my current house. I think that this has given me a very purposeful perspective on how sense of place affects us. I’ve tried to talk to friends who have had more continuity of home but mostly had a ‘what are you talking about’ result.
A sense of place is the feeling of belonging, of feeling that things are right, content. Right time, right place, right people. The house and town where you grew up, plus your family and community, surround you and give you the context to decide who you are and what you are about. If they stay constant, they are almost invisible participants in this process – at least background or scenery in the story of your life. Although you may have a strong urge either to replicate or escape them.
If they change regularly, or at a crucial time in your development these elements might become more than background, they might shape a part of the story. They might, if you are me, pull into the foreground and make you wonder who you might have been had the circumstances changed. Had you stayed in one of the places, say? Or a different location had been chosen.
At one point, my dad had two opportunities to move up to run his own council – one in the Chicago area and one in Port Huron, MI. He took the opportunity in Chicago. I was already in my late teens, but I do sometimes wonder how the alternative might have affected things. It is possible he had other conflicting opportunities leading up to previous moves, but I only know of this one for certain. I do know that he entertained the idea of leaving Scouting when I was in mid-grade school due to a bad situation with council leadership. He stuck with it and we ended up in Portage MI and I had my own room, plus that was the biggest house we ever lived in.
I have come full circle in a way – the first house that my parents actually owned was in Hoffman Estates IL and I have now lived in 2 different houses in this village as an adult. Moving back to a childhood place was a bit of a comfort at a difficult time in my life. Familiar places reduced the stress of unfamiliar problems.
My nomadic childhood has led me to think a lot about community. About what draws people together and conversely sets them apart. About how important community is for well-being, for stability – financial and emotional, for opportunity and support.
Having no strong sense of place linked to a physical location, I developed a strong sense of place within myself and within the group of people who make up my family and close friends. I have also taken to collecting things that remind me of people and my past. Nearly all of the items in my house have history.
I hope that you have a sense of place that gives you comfort.
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