By Paul Henson

Monterey Bay, California. (Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

On land, or on the sea? On the hills, or in the valleys? Where is home? (Monterey Bay, California. Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

I used to think home was one place.  Familiar.  Comforting.  Safe.  Harking back to childhood memories. Attached to specific faces, people – family.

I was wrong.

It turns out home is many different places.  It’s not always familiar.  It can take us out of our comfort zones.  Unsettling.  It can be strange, foreign, new, terrifying.  Still, it can be home.

Have you ever felt the need to break free?  Moments you simply felt stunted, caged that you just wanted to create for yourself a new home?

Be careful what you wish for.  Life is listening.

A window opens.  Sometimes, a door.  Slowly at first.  Filtering in a little bit of light, a gentle breeze, through the cracks.  Enticing.  Newness beckons.  Fresh, exhilarating, liberating.

A window opens.  Sometimes, a door.

And sometimes – I suspect, oftentimes — the whole house comes crashing down.  Torn apart.  Blown away.

A flood of emotions:  Anger, disbelief, grief, sadness, heartache, pain.  More anger.  A little regret.  A little self-hate.

A deluge of questions:  What just happened?  Did I do something wrong?  What was all this for?


You stumble through the debris.  Lost, dazed, confused and frightened.  Sometimes you try, but are just too paralyzed by fear.

Grand Canyon, Arizona. (Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

Finding home even on the precipice. (Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Paul Henson 2015)

Finding your way

But help comes when you need it most.

A word.  A hand.  A shared tear.  They don’t take away the pain completely.  But sharing it makes the load just a bit easier to bear.

And then amidst all that is frightening, unfamiliar, uncomfortable and painful – slowly – you discover that home is many different places.

Home is in the smile, the outstretched hand, of a new friend.  The color of his or her eyes may be different but the tenderness is something you have felt before.

Home is in a song, a dance.  The words, the steps, are new but the pull on your heartstrings (or hamstrings) transport you back to fond memories.

Home is in a meal.  The flavors may be all new but the satisfaction and contentment in your heart and your belly are the same.

Home is…

Sometimes, you retrace your steps to your old home.  You see the old places, old people.  Sometimes, the familiar brings you comfort.  At other times it brings you discomfort.  Either you’ve changed, and they haven’t.  Or have they changed, and you’ve stayed the same?  It doesn’t matter.  There’s no right or wrong.

You look back.  You look forward.  You’re not quite sure what is ahead.  But you feel the ground beneath you is solid and safe.  You feel a quiet sense of accomplishment.  You exhale.  Your breath carried by the mist, the wind, into the sky, the sunlight.

Home is many different places.  Sometimes – oftentimes, I suspect — the old one has to come crashing down, get torn apart, get blown away.  Don’t worry.  That home is not gone entirely.  You just have to trust that you’re making way for something new.


Follow the author on Twitter @Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower.




(The root of the problem.  The panoramic X-ray of the affected 3rd molar.) 

For the last 72 hours, I’ve had a lopsided face, been on hundreds of milligrams of medication every 6 hours, not eating much except mostly ice cream, and spending a lot of time in bed.  It’s not clinical depression.  It’s post-operative care after the surgical removal of my 2nd molar and impacted 3rd molar.  Simply put, I’ve had my bottom left wisdom tooth removed and the tooth next to it.

It’s the second time in 4 years that I’m having dental surgery.  The first time was when I had my bottom right wisdom tooth removed.  That was excruciating.  My mouth was open for several hours as the orthodontist yanked, pulled and grunted relentlessly while invading my oral cavities with all sorts of cold instruments of torture, including what I thought was a mini chainsaw (it was an automatic drill) to cut through a small piece of bone… which explained the burning smell at one point (too graphic, I know).

My left wisdom tooth had not given me problems for years, except about a month ago when it started becoming sensitive then became painful, and started waking me up from sleep.  I knew it had to go.

So one bright and sunny afternoon, I was in the dentist’s clinic waiting to get a panoramic dental X-ray when I started pondering:  Why so much pain for a tooth I don’t even use?  Why all this trouble for a body part that is as inconsequential as the appendix or the tonsils?  (And while we’re at it, why is wisdom tooth extraction so damn expensive and why doesn’t my health card cover it?!!!  Pardon the mood swings… it’s the meds.)

Some scientists claim there’s an evolutionary explanation to the wisdom tooth.  Our prehistoric ancestors had bigger jaws and more teeth because it was said to be necessary to catch, breakdown and chew their large prey.  But with evolution, man’s brain grew bigger, the jaw line receded, tools became more sophisticated and food became more processed.  A lot of teeth became unnecessary.

Medically, there’s not enough space for the wisdom tooth, so instead of growing upright it gets squeezed into a tiny corner and gets embedded into the gums at a weird, painful angle.  This is what’s called impacted tooth.  This could cause damage to the surrounding teeth, gums, nerves and jaw.

I came across another thinking about pain, a spiritual view this time, when I picked up a reading material from the dentist’s lounge.  The book is How to be Really, Really, Really Happy by Bo Sanchez (trust me, you’ll gravitate towards anything that will give relief when your teeth hurt).  He writes, “Pain urges one to continue walking.  If the journey were not painful, one would be tempted to stop – and slow down along the way.”


(How to be really happy before dental surgery.)  

I’m sure Bo wasn’t thinking about my impacted tooth when he wrote about pain, and I wasn’t high on meds yet at that time but still I was able to draw connections.  Pain, whether physical or emotional, forces us to get to the root of the problem and confront it.  It’s that desire to get out of the pain that pushes us to snap out of our complacency, despair, etc. and find solutions that will free us and give us comfort.

With those in mind, after having my X-ray results examined and getting a 2nd opinion, both orthodontists concurred that not only should the left molar be removed but the 2nd molar as well.  Whopeee!  Twice as much pain.

So the day of surgery came. I ate a big breakfast (fried rice, sausages and eggs) because I knew I won’t be eating normally for the next few days.  And I braced myself for a lot of pain.

Sitting on my orthodontist’s chair (she’s a petite and soft spoken woman but, man, can she pull!) I told her “God bless you” and said a prayer for her sure and steady hands.  She injected anesthesia (local anesthesia… I’m not going to be knocked unconscious for dental surgery) but I asked for a few more happy doses, just to be sure.

So with some light pop music in the background, the procedure began.  I expected the worst, but before I could even pray a full rosary, the dentist had already pulled both teeth, was cleaning up, and told her assistant to call up my cousin to pick me up pronto!  It turned out to be an easy procedure because the impacted tooth was at a convenient angle and the dentist did not even have to cut through bone.  Praise God.


(Dental surgery diet. Not bad.)

So now upon doctor’s orders, I’m spending the next 5 days at home to let the wound heal and the swelling subside.  God heard my prayers because apart from a little discomfort, I feel no excruciating pain.  The first 24 hours, I was eating nothing but ice cream (cold heals the wound faster), but by the 2nd day, I was eating normal food again (in very, very small bites and chewing only on my right side).  I can’t talk too much or laugh too big, and my cold compress gel is now my best friend (as well as sweet friends and cousins who come over to entertain me).

Oh and by coincidence, perhaps as a tribute to evolutionary science, I’m using a kid’s toothbrush for now (extra soft for ages 2 to 5), color apple green, with the design of a happy dinosaur with a big toothy smile.