A local official remarked recently that he “lives in Orland by choice“. He told us that he had the resources to live anywhere he wanted in northern California, but chooses to live in Orland because of its many qualities. That was meant as a compliment to the town, and it should be taken as such. What kind of a town wouldn’t want good people choosing to live in it? I chose Orland, too, probably for the same reasons he did.
When you think about it, though, the statement “I live in Orland by choice” is remarkable because of the unspoken contrast. Why would anyone say such a thing? What makes it significant? It is significant because most Orlanders do not live here by choice. Most Orlanders live here because family, or social connections, or economics compel them to live here. They are trapped, or at least they consider themselves to be without options. The implication is that, if such people had viable options, maybe they wouldn’t be living here, and so maybe the person who lives here by choice is more loyal, or a better citizen, or what have you. There can be value in looking at things this way, so I’m not discounting the thought process. However, I think this approach can obscure or distort the meaning of what a home is, or should be.
You don’t choose a home; home chooses you. There is a sense in which the man who “chooses” his home is really a man without a home. We come into this world in a social and geographical context we didn’t choose. We didn’t choose our families, we didn’t choose the people among whom they lived, we didn’t choose our country, we didn’t choose our birthplaces. These things, taken together, constitute what should be our natural homes. But three things generally happen in modern life: 1) tolerable homes disintegrate and disappear; 2) we leave tolerable homes for “better” ones and end up starting over; 3) we leave intolerable homes by necessity. There is not much that any individual can do about #1 or #3 for himself. However, we can all take a good hard look at #2, and see to it that our children do not have the burdens of #1 and #3.
I’ve always had a bad case of wanderlust. Only recently have I identified its source: a search for home. By “home” I mean to say a geographical place in which – to which – I belong. This belonging, I have always imagined, is a magical feeling, kind of like “love at first sight”. But of course that isn’t how home really works. For a place to be home, there need to be relationships, there needs to be history, there needs to be time, and wanderlust conspires against the accumulation of time in any one place. Ironically, then, the homesick man who is afflicted with wanderlust never stays in any one place long enough to make a real home. And that’s what I have done. We all go through life with various handicaps, and mine is that I will never belong to any one place or community in this way.
Business has been awful this past year (though it has picked up a little since the election). For the past several months I have been actively looking for alternative employment. If I had been offered the right job in another city, or another state, I would have taken it. But nothing has turned up. We have considered selling the ranch and moving to greener pastures, but real estate just isn’t selling in this market apart from foreclosures and short sales. We’re trapped.
Yes, trapped. And to tell you the truth, I don’t mind at all. In fact it is something of a relief. Whatever I’m going to do, I have to do it here, at least for the time being. I may have chosen Orland four years ago, but today Orland is choosing me … and it’s finally starting to feel a little bit like home.