The importance of place

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William Bennett/Staff

People talk all the time about how influential the people in our lives are, and I agree — they’re right. At other times, people will focus on experiences, on the things that we do, or on the things that happen to us. Again, those are valid points, but place is at the intersection of the people we know and the experiences we have. Place ties these two quintessential pieces together. The places we live in form who we are.

When I was younger, I remember hearing about people moving to new schools, cities or states, and this always struck a twanging chord within me. It wasn’t because I was sad they were leaving, but rather because I would try to empathize with them and find that I couldn’t. Moving was an abstract concept to me, something that happened to other people — not to me. I went to the same school from the time I was 4 all the way until my graduation day. I lived in the same house 30 minutes north of Nashville my entire life. Everything I knew was the picture of familiarity and homogeneity.

My parents filed for a divorce the summer before my senior year of high school. I spent the next year driving back roads my family had driven countless times before for everything from watching movies to going to church, but now I saw these roads in a different light. Every Sunday night, I would drive for 35 minutes to go from one parent to the other, from one place to the other. A constant pull between an apartment and my childhood home began to penetrate my psyche, and sometimes I felt as if I belonged in neither.

Moving was an abstract concept to me, something that happened to other people — not to me … Everything I knew was the picture of familiarity and homogeneity.

I came to Berkeley feeling as though I no longer had a place to call home, hoping that it might fill that void, but it hasn’t. The hardest thing about place is that once you muster the courage to go somewhere, you expect that all of you will be there. You expect that none of you is left behind, that you can start anew — but that’s rarely the case. So much of me is still in Nashville. Even while I’m here hanging out with friends, studying or meeting new people, I find myself wanting to be able to return to simplicity.

Some days, all I want to do is watch “Shark Tank” with my dad, eat my Grandma’s potato and beef hash and play with my dog. On my walks to class with the cool bay air rushing over me, I’ll yearn to be behind the wheel of my car again, listening to Nashville’s alternative radio station, Lightning 100, and watching the city rise above I-24. In a way, coming here really solidified in my mind that I will always have a home. Maybe the house in which I grew up isn’t my home anymore, but Nashville will always be there.

Before coming here, I thought that moving meant packing up your things and putting them on new ground, but I have found that it’s much more than that. It’s about giving a part of yourself to a new place, and it’s about having this place become a part of you — if only a small one. This phenomenon is so powerful because whether you came from SoCal, China or Nashville, Berkeley is a part of you now, and you are now a part of it.

My first home is in Nashville. It will forever be there, but a part of me will always call Berkeley home, too. A part of me will swoon at the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of Channing Way or the Campanile at dusk, festooned with spotlights gazing skyward. I will forever cherish the whooshing of the BART in underground tunnels and the sun setting over the Bay.

Before coming here, I thought that moving meant packing up your things and putting them on new ground, but I have found that it’s much more than that.

The places in which we live are fragmented reflections of ourselves, pieces to the puzzles of our identity. To truly understand ourselves, we need the different pressures and rewards of all of our places, present, future and past, to line up just so. For it is only then that we will know who we are.

Contact Rachel Gregory at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rakechill.

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