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Where do I belong?

It seems that we have often misunderstood the true essence of a home versus a house. A house, at its core, remains a mere physical structure, devoid of the emotional connection that defines a genuine home – I could have also written this text in Albanian, but I feel it holds more meaning in English, and I would prefer to keep it that way.

Von Agon Rexhepi

Home – a place where a profound sense of belonging thrives. The Albanian term «shtëpi» may primarily refer to the building, yet it fails to encompass the inner peace and tranquility that extend far beyond its walls and roof.

A house can take various forms: a building, an apartment, a room, a villa, and so much more. In contrast, a home can embody myriad manifestations: it could be a person, a group of people, a notebook, a camera, a park, and countless other elements, dependent on a persons unique personality and circumstances.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wondered about the true location of my home. Growing up as a queer kid in a conventional family, I felt disconnected from the concept of home and family. An inner fear gnawed at me, convincing me that I didn’t truly belong there and that it could never become my authentic sanctuary. Consequently, I resorted to substituting the idea of home with the simplicity of a mere house – a modest dwelling in Prishtina. Yet, this substitution failed to evoke that genuine feeling of home, where my heart could genuinely rejoice.

This ongoing search for belonging raises questions within me. Perhaps, I don’t need to belong anywhere. Maybe we’ve been conditioned to believe that we must find a place to belong to, yet perhaps it isn’t our destined path.

Contemplating the power of language in shaping our thoughts, I wonder why we place such heavy emphasis on houses and apartments while possessing fewer words to articulate the emotional richness of a home. Should the sense of belonging be solely tethered to a physical structure? Why do we devote considerable efforts to beautifying our houses while sometimes overlooking the art of nurturing belonging – a comforting feeling akin to sinking into a soul-nurturing sofa? During my childhood, I was encouraged to pursue a lavish apartment, but no one taught me how to cultivate that profound sense of home within myself.

I was never guided on the path to truly feeling at home. To embrace and appreciate my own body, which I often criticize and overanalyze, leading me to like it less and less.

 Likewise, I was never shown how to feel at home in the company of my beloved group of individuals who mean the world to me. Even within the vast expanse of a grand house, that authentic feeling of the home remains elusive.

Recently, I embarked on an exploration of America, immersing myself in its diverse richness. As I traversed great distances by plane, I couldn’t help but question my sense of belonging. I found myself oceans away from my home country, thousands of kilometers apart from my cherished family and friends. However, to my surprise, I felt a profound sense of belonging there – liberating freedom that eluded me in my conventional dwelling.

In the midst of strangers I had never met before, I sensed a unique opportunity to be more authentic—to embrace my true self. I resided in a dorm with a simple room, a bed, a closet, and a large table. The dorm featured shared spaces, including a bathroom and a hall with a communal fridge. Despite its simplicity, I felt a genuine sense of belonging in that place. It seemed to allow me to be entirely myself.

And then the question lingers—where do I truly belong? Where is my home?

Is it among people who know me so well, yet not well enough? Among those whom I love deeply, and who love me equally, but whom I may never fully comprehend, just as they may never entirely understand me? Or do I find belonging among a group of strangers, eager to get to know me, interested in hearing my life’s stories? Would the people around me love me just as much if I didn’t meet their expectations? At least, strangers may not harbor as many expectations. But if I love these individuals with equal fervor, why do I feel so comfortable being far away from them, in the confines of a small room within an old building?

As I ponder the question of belonging, I recognize that our greatest limitation often lies in the fear of not living up to the expectations set by our loved ones. We become mere reflections of their expectations, and our freedom becomes constrained by those we cherish the most. Our true, authentic selves may shy away from manifesting freely because of potential judgments or opinions from those we know. 

We behave in ways that align with what our loved ones find acceptable, even if we may not wish to acknowledge it. We might believe in free will, yet it often proves limited, confined by the projections we place upon reality and ourselves. Our thoughts and histories are shaped and recounted by many people. However, when we find ourselves far away from home, we begin to write our own history.

We’re expected to act in specific ways, to love and live in particular manners, to breathe, eat, and dance in prescribed fashions, to survive and even to die according to societal norms. Amidst these ponderings, the question of belonging lingers – will I ever find my place? Do I truly need to belong?

As clouds drift by, I catch glimpses of different cities from the plane. Buildings, cars, and houses pass by, but nothing is distinctly identifiable. And I continue to wonder – where do I truly belong?

29. Juli 2023

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