In her stunning memoir, In Other Words, Jhumpa Lahiri describes what was for her the painful duality of growing up between lands (India and the United States), languages (Bengali and English), and loves (family and writing). As her reflections unfold, she shows us that a third way, a way out of that pain, is possible. For her, that path is Italian, a language that opens up heretofore unknown, untried parts of her mind, body, and soul. Through Italian, she charts a way forward, one in which duality could become a good, desirable thing: "It's not possible to become another writer, but it might be possible to become two."
I cannot say enough how much I loved this book. I love it like I love Jane Austen, like I love that first morning cup of coffee, like I love those rare shining moments when my pen translates my thoughts on the very first try. Her writing is finely wrought, worthy of a life richly lived. It also helped give new shape to my response when, for approximately the 1000th time, someone asked me a version of the tired question, "how did you end up here?"
On the one hand, I can kind of see their point. I'm a Yankee born and bred; unlike many Americans, I am multilingual by choice, and I've lived in nearly a dozen different places from small-town America to Houston to Versailles (yes, yes, that Versailles). Given that, I guess I can kind of see why some might wonder that I am so happy to call this corner of Appalachia home.
On the other hand, I don't get it at all. Yes, I've called 3 countries, 5 states, 11 cities "home." I've left...and, more importantly, found...a piece of my soul in every single place. Why, then, should I only lay claim to one? There is a version of my best self basking on the terrasse of a Mediterranean café, another so ensconced in a book that I found myself unexpectedly snowed in (true story!). I can suit up and speak at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, or I can throw on jeans, boots, and flannel to share my musings with a herd of Hereford cows.
I am all these selves and more. They come from a lot of different places and taken together, sometimes those selves and places don't make a lot of sense. Do yours? I didn't think so. And yet. They're yours, right? Your places helped create you, just as Lahiri's form part of her and mine are shaping me. They morph and meld, grow and change, yet ultimately, remain ours. Ours to carry wherever we go. Ours to keep within our hearts, the true home where all our best selves live.