I’m sitting in a train, waiting to go home. I’m 32 years old, have lived by myself for the last 13 years, and recently moved into a nice, spacious flat with my wonderful girlfriend — but when I say “home,” there’s only ever one place I’m referring to.
It’s a simple house in the middle of nowhere in southwestern Germany. Nice but not extravagant. Unsuspecting. You couldn’t tell the difference between that house and the seven others in that street. Or any of the millions of houses across the country, for that matter. But I can — not because of its features, but because of the people bringing it to life for the past 20 years: my family. Mom. Dad. Sis.
It’s not the same house it was when my dad bought it in 2003. We renovated the bathroom. Installed new heating. It needs a paint job, and just last year, we took out an entire wall to unite the kitchen and the dining space. I no longer live there. My sister no longer lives there. My room looks different, and so does my dad’s office now that he works more from home. But that’s what it was and still is: home.
Will it always be this way? I think so now, but never say never. If my parents’ own story is any indication, at some point, I’ll have a house of my own. A kid or two running around, perhaps. Maybe then, that will be home.
What I do know is that home isn’t a place. It’s a feeling. The comfort of knowing you belong. Our house had a price when we bought it, but that feeling no amount of money can purchase. At the same time, wherever you go with the people who give you that feeling, it will feel like home. A camping ground. A cheap motel. A five-star resort. The people make the place — not just literally but metaphorically.
Tolkien’s The Hobbit is about many themes. One of them is greed. After finally reclaiming the Lonely Mountain, his ancient home which happens to be filled with gold, dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield becomes corrupted by its treasures. But none of the people who used to make it a home are there anymore. The dwarves have a civilization to rebuild, not a heap of coins to protect.
By the time Thorin realizes his mistake, he too pays a price worse than money. It’s a lesson neither he nor his friend, to whom he gifts his insight on his deathbed, will ever forget: “If more people valued home above gold, this world would be a merrier place.”
Home is not a house you buy or a location you choose. It is a place you can erect anywhere with the people you love, because it is made entirely of emotions — and in the end, no matter what you call it, that is worth more than gold.