Home

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?

WHY?

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.

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


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The Pleasures of a Table for One

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Savoring a cocktail in solitude. (Photo by Paul Henson)

It doesn’t matter if you’re single, married, with partner, with family or with lots of friends. Dining out alone is something good to do once in a while. Think about it as taking yourself out on a date. You’re not there to please another person – you’re doing it for yourself. If you take the extra mile to show your spouse/partner/date/friend a great time, don’t you deserve to treat you and yourself alone to something special every now and then?

But why is the prospect of dining out alone terrifying? Just the thought of it gives some people cold sweats and palpitations. Most would shun the idea. Mabuti pang mag-take out na lang kaysa kumain mag-isa (better to just grab food to go than eat out alone.) Too embarrassing, they’d say.

You walk up to the waiter to ask for a table for one, and you get a quizzical look. And when you’re finally shown to your table, you feel as if all eyes are on you. And you’re imagining what people are thinking: Poor thing. All alone. No one to share a meal with.

Guess what. They’re not thinking that. You are.

That’s you thinking you’re not special. That’s you thinking you don’t deserve good things by your lonesome. That’s you being afraid to be alone with your thoughts. Well, if you can’t enjoy being by yourself, you won’t be any good in the company of someone else.

There are many benefits to enjoying a lovely meal by yourself. For one, service is faster. The servers are more attentive to you, and when the chef is finished preparing your food, it gets to your table in a flash even before you’re halfway through your cocktail. There’s no need to time the food service, unlike when you’re in a group.

Dining by yourself also gives you the opportunity to disconnect, to be off the grid, even just for an hour or so. It’s a great time to set aside your mobile device and just revel in the bliss of having this personal time and space. You can let your thoughts wander. You can enjoy your food and wine as leisurely as you want. You can even have dessert and espresso. Go ahead… No one can stop you.

Being alone encourages you to be centered, to be in the zone. You set aside distractions and you become one with the moment. This is something that’s so difficult to do in our hyper-connected and multi-tasking world. When you’re free from all the noise, you notice things that you take for granted.

The flavors of the food become more pronounced. You appreciate the delicate balance of sweetness and acidity of the balsamic vinegar, the earthy quality of the truffle oil, the lovely combination of bittersweet chocolate with mint.

It’s a good time as any to people watch when you’re dining alone, but discreetly, I should say. You notice the nuances of relationships. Those two are just on the awkward getting-to-know-you stage, those two are intoxicated with their blossoming romance, those two have been married for 20 years. Those two dudes are best friends, but those two are secret lovers, for sure. That table is celebrating a birthday, that table is having a baby shower.

You also notice that not everyone in that restaurant is automatically happy just because they’re with someone. It can be a big family, a group of friends, a couple, but they’re not talking. Their eyes are transfixed on their smartphones, fiddling away aimlessly. Or their eyes are just wandering with a blank, expressionless look.

Perhaps the best part of having time for yourself in a restaurant setting is the gift of being able to love yourself. There’s no need to feel guilty or insecure. You deserve to treat yourself because you’re special, and because you are your own best friend.

In that brief period of solitude, you can come face to face with your innermost thoughts and be as light and as whimsical as you want, or as introspective as you wish. And by the time you ask for your cheque, you will realize that dining alone is not so bad after all. It’s actually good, and is something you should have started doing sooner.

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(Follow the author on twitter.com/Paulhenson or Instagram @heaveninawildflower)