Several years ago, my paternal uncle, a retired doctor who has taken up painting, asked if he could paint something for me.
Normally I prefer to let the artist choose his inspiration, but he left it up to me, so I thought for awhile about what I’d like to have hanging on my walls in Turkey (strangely devoid of artwork considering that my mom is a painter too).
Finally I decided that I would like a painting with some scene from California in order to remind me of home.
Originally this was to be a shot of the Monterey Bay from a precise spot on the freeway in Seaside, CA just as you are coming over a gentle rise and headed south. But for logistical reasons, I couldn’t get that shot and decided on California poppies instead. The inspiration for this painting came from a photograph my sister took, so for that reason, the piece has triple meaning (uncle, sister, California).
But the longer I live in Turkey, the more nebulous this concept of home becomes.
Because California will always be home to me. There is something so special about it. And I was born and raised there. And my family has been there for four generations. And I feel like I carry its ideals with me despite any questions of identity I might have.
And because Turkey is my home. It is my husband’s homeland and has embraced me so warmly that I cannot think of it as anything other than a permanent part of my life. And because despite being raised in California, I “found myself” here.
When I saw this tweet citing Lois McMaster Bujold, I immediately responded to it. “My home is not a place, it is people,” she was quoted, and it felt like it might help resolve some of my dilemma of home. For certainly I am fortunate to be blessed with many people in my life all over the world with whom I will always feel at home.
But it doesn’t totally resolve the sense of place I get when I feel the California sun on my face, or the smell of the Ataturk airport having arrived after being gone for several weeks. Those sensations are not about people, those are definitely relegated to a specific physical location.
So I guess for me, home is all of it, and the best I can do is appreciate where I am at any given moment, to choose those places thoughtfully, and to surround myself with the people who give me a sense of warmth, welcome, and being.
And something else that I told myself continuously as I was struggling so hard to get through culture shock and adjust to my new life in Turkey – “Bloom where you’re planted”. Wherever you may find yourself, be in that place fully, as you are, and thrive under any circumstances.
I just found a fourth meaning for my uncle’s painting – poppies blooming where they have been planted.