To escape. To leave it all behind. To see what else is out there.
That is all that I thought I wanted for the last semester of high school, feeling trapped in an increasingly familiar place I thought I loathed. I couldn’t keep putting up with the pettiness I perceived in the people surrounding me, or the inside jokes that weren’t as funny as they used to be.
My rotten disposition could be described as “anti-hometown”. Anything could be better than a suburban sprawl that contains an equally excessive amount of golf courses and retirement complexes. Or so I believed.
I walked across a stage, moved a tassel from one side of a cap to the other, and literally got on the first plane out of town. End destination: University of California, Berkeley.
For those unaware, Berkeley is remarked as a bastion of liberal thinking, scientific research, and student activism. People still live in communes here. When I arrived, I thought I would finally stop thinking about home, the nagging and incessant things I couldn’t stand about Florida (its heat, its racial injustice, its political climate), and step into a utopia that would help me forget the past.
But I couldn’t .
It’s not thank Berkeley isn’t wonderful, or that neighboring San Francisco is devoid of a unique culture. It’s not that there aren’t wonderful people with great ideas here. There are things that I love about living here: easily accessible vegan food, rapid public transportation, an internationally minded student body.
But it didn’t make me who I am. It didn’t give me the passion to protect natural resources from exploitation, or to plan a better city, or to fight against cases of intolerance and bigotry. My home did.
Florida is home to people who claim that “The whole history of Muslim is violence”, politicians who can’t see the value in conserving land so people can drink water, and un-convicted murderers who sign autographs at gun shows.
And it’s also home to inspiring civil rights organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations, which criticized and embarrassed a state senator that tried to pass a needless bill that would prevent Sharia law in Florida. Did I mention that MLS and one of fútbol’s biggest stars is coming to Orlando in 2015?
It has vast natural reserves, white sanded-beaches, and a music scene that is as varied as it is rich. My friends who gave me hope and inspired others to do more came from there. For god’s sake, my sister was born here!
My short trip has imparted on me that the only distance one has from one’s roots is physical separation. Home is a spiritual place, a set of experiences that shapes you, and a springboard into parts less explored. Here’s to you, Port Orange.
The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.