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Comfort vs. Belonging

Spring is my favorite time of year in New Jersey. The air loses its crispness. The ground defrosts and softens. Flowers blossom. Birds chirp. Everyone is in their t-shirts looking for a reason to be outside, feeling the sun on their arms.

When Spring starts, I always feel so hopeful. With the dark, sad winter gone, the days grow longer, leaving more time for adventures and exploration. Even though it’s been about a decade since I set foot inside of any type of classroom, I still feel that end-of-year buzz that students get as the teachers leave windows open during class, tapping their feet impatiently to get outside.

While I’m sure this time of year is beautiful pretty much everywhere, I am especially in love with the way it feels here. The air always has a slightly earthy, metallic smell and it feels like everyone has woken up from a deep slumber as they make their way into their cars, onto the parkway, and, inevitably, down the shore.

It’s tradition, or habit. When the air changes, I know what comes next. It feels good, this sense of knowing what to expect. Perhaps it’s sheer excitement for getting to spend more time outside, or perhaps it feels more like I’ve been initiated. In New Jersey, this is what we do.

This sensation of familiarity and hope has been on my mind quite a bit. As Gustavo and I plan (rather, try to plan) for the future, we talk about where we can see ourselves and why. Originally, we talked about Orlando, then other cities in Florida. As we continued to explore, we talked about Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and pretty much any other major city on the East Coast. Not to mention, when things are feeling particularly overwhelming, cities all across the entirety Europe that we could use for a brief home base.

We’re not in a place to make any decisions yet, but as we raise ideas with each other, and rule others out, it makes me think about what my criteria are for “home.” No matter how many other cities and places we discuss, I always come back to New Jersey. It makes me wonder: does it feel like home because I truly connect with it or does it feel like home because it’s what I know best? In other words, do I really belong or am I just retreating into what’s comfortable?

There are places that I know I don’t belong. In these places, I never feel like myself. It’s nothing I can quite put my finger on, except a general, ongoing sensation of “not right.” One day, when I was still living in Washington, DC, I remember sitting in my bedroom and thinking, “Oh! I’m unhappy because I don’t like living here. And I can move!” At the time, I assumed you lived wherever you lived and everything fell into place around it. It didn’t occur to me that some places always feel like… having soup for breakfast. Sure, it can be nourishing and filling, but it’s never what you want at 8 o’clock in the morning.

New Jersey is having, well, coffee in the morning. It’s going to a diner on the weekend for a huge breakfast and laughing around a big table while the sun streams in. It’s down to earth, honest. It’s hard-working and ambitious. It’s a sarcastic joke with a friend to make sure you connect on the same level since no one is better than anyone else. It’s a mix, a melting pot, a collection of people connected to the past but looking to the future.

Is this true other places? Of course, but I speak the language of New Jersey. I love it. For all its problems and weaknesses, they’re my problems and weaknesses. We have the same values, the same vision.

So maybe belonging is comfortable, and it’s comfortable to feel like you belong. Either way, it’s going to look and feel differently in every single place. We’ll see what that means in the future. Either way, I welcome the sensation.

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