I’ve thought a lot about home.
Our family moved after living in the same house in Kentucky for 17 years. As of this week, my parents have been moved into the new house in Indiana for a full year. It’s been a year since showing the old house, making trips all summer to the storage unit, and opening the wrong drawers all the time in the new kitchen.
I noticed the other day that I’ve added a ton of keys to what began as just a car key fob. It’s happened over time, but several have joined the key ring recently.
I’ve never been good with keys. I practice when given the responsibility of locking up. I put the key in, turn it one way, then the other, and back again, listening for the right clicks and weight in my hands. It takes me at least a year to gain muscle memory of a particular key in my hand and its required turns.
I’ve had keys to mailboxes, apartments, workplaces, and storage units, as well as offices and conference rooms. And then there was the key to my Chamonix apartment that I struggled with every time I came through the door.
But I never had a key to my home in Kentucky.
We didn’t leave the door open at our old house; I just always went in through the garage. There’s a formality to front doors. They require permission. They reveal only the knick-knacks we arrange as first impressions but that more often become dust-gatherers. Front doors announce arrival with doorbells and knocks.
Our closest friends always popped through the kitchen door unannounced because they knew the garage code. They came into our home at the place of progress—where dinner was still coming together, where half-empty chip bags lay waiting to refill serving bowls. One weekend during college, I surprised my mom by coming home for a couple days. I came in through the kitchen like any other day when I lived there full-time. That was the best part of the surprise—I announced myself from the kitchen. Like always.
I’ve spent this year trying to figure out why the move was painful. After 17 years, it was natural to have to adjust considerably to a move. But I wanted to know what I had lost, why I had to process the move so deeply when I hadn’t lived in Kentucky full-time for six years. I’m piecing it together and learning to pay attention when I notice things (like my keys).
What I know, albeit in part, is this: I lost a place where I could go in through the garage.
This is not to say that I don’t feel comfortable in my other homes. I have lived in my Nashville apartment for three years, and I will be sad to leave it one day. It has been a place of refuge during some particularly rough moments. And I love our Indiana home—it’s different but lovely, and all our belongings make it familiar. It looks spectacular at Christmas, and I love its high ceilings and the basement where we watch basketball games together. But even though my Nashville space is all my own and I do know the garage code to the Indiana house, neither are like coming in through the garage in the Kentucky home.
Now, without that home, the keys accumulate. I have several homes, several places I am responsible for. My need for home is divided among many doors instead of being filled by one.
I trust that eventually another home will become what my Kentucky home was. It wasn’t like that immediately, of course; 17 years in the same house meant that our very souls were embedded in those walls by the time we left it. The good thing is that our souls and their capacities to settle in are deep. We have a lot of love to give. We are capable of piecing together, of adapting, of relearning how to fill a need.
Maybe my struggle with learning keys means we’re made to come in through the garage—for that kind of home. Maybe those homes for which we don’t have keys give us glimpses of what home really feels like, what it really can be.
Learning how different keys feel in my hands shows me, over and over, what a gift that home in Kentucky was. It has taken a lot of turns of the key in the lock in Nashville to figure out that gift—how to love it, how to leave it, how to be thankful. But it’s the same every day, and every day, it’s a new chance to know home better.