Until last September, I had never had my own room. Well, that’s not entirely true. When I was 10, I lived on the landing above the stairs to the second floor, which I technically had all to myself; I also didn’t have to share the guest room in the basement which I slept in through high school; and then there were those few months in college when my roommate moved out and I technically had a dorm room all to myself.
Throughout most of my life, however, I’ve either had to share a room with a roommate (usually one of my siblings) or else I’ve been sleeping on a mattress in some common space (a landing when I was a kid, and a corner of the living room when I came home for school breaks, including all summer).
Finally, when my sister went to college, I got to move into her room. You might think that I wouldn’t like moving into my sister’s room, but that’s because you haven’t seen her room. It’s painted sky blue with white clouds shaped like animals, with two huge windows, a ceiling fan and a huge mirror on a dresser. It’s fairy-tale-grade room decoration, let me tell you.
I was surprised, though, by how deeply I was affected by the experience of having a room that I actually liked. Living on landings or in basements, sharing my room and moving rooms regularly meant that I’d never associated the physical location of a room with a sense of unique belonging. My family also moved around a lot between houses when I was young, so I’ve never really had any permanent physical location that I’ve identified as home.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — being able to sleep soundly in unfamiliar places has allowed me to thoroughly enjoy some experiences that other people might find emotionally taxing. One of the best summers of my life was spent at a biological station in northern Michigan, where I felt freed rather than frightened that I was sleeping alone in an unheated tin cabin side by side with cabins of dozens of complete strangers.
But still, I am adamant and excited about living alone when I leave Michigan at the end of the year (I’m already daydreaming about the pictures I want to hang on my walls), because the physical sensation of home is no longer something I’m willing to go without.
Obviously “home” can mean a lot of different things, from where you hang your hat to “wherever I’m with you,” but the reason people have spent so much time thinking about home is because it is, as Maya Angelou puts it, “a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”
It is this sense of belonging that I felt when I finally slept in my own room for the first time. I’d always felt safe and comfortable with my family, but belonging in a physical location is more than just feeling safe in or proud of it.
But belonging in a specific physical location can have its downsides. A friend whose family is moving their childhood home describes the strangeness of having such a place of belonging move.
Although we cannot feel the most powerful sense of physical belonging in this world, because we will always be restless until we rest in God, we can and should feel confident that the world and everything in it, including us, belongs to God.