A Note About Hope

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Hope reveals itself in mysterious ways.

A final gasp for air, the first drop of rain, the step away from the ledge, the hand that picks up the phone, the improving blood test results, the stern lips that crack to reveal a smile, or as the light creeping through the shades against every self-loathing desire to remain in the dark.

Last week I fell quite sick. Each night I found myself drenched in sweat with the feeling that a pick axe had been delivered to an unreachable point inside my skull. I was already down – so this was the ground breaking away to further my fall and add depth to my despair.

In the same week, a friend’s baby passed away at 7 months, and another found out his dad has cancer and that one of his friends had also recently died in a car crash. News was also given that a close friend of my parents had passed away after being ill.

Today, someone knocked on my door to explain the inhumanities going on in Syria. He was hoping I would donate to the charity he represented. I said I wasn’t in the position to – but I empathised with the fact he was walking door to door in the heat, to which he was quick to state, “it’s not about me.”

Of course not. It’s about all of us. And how as conscious individuals, a community, a country, a chunk of rock floating in space – we hurt, so much and so deeply at times… But we also hope.

Hope is an unwavering desire which becomes the belief that no matter what happens; how much we take or lose, and no matter the odds; we still have something to clench dearly in our hands.. as well as the strength to swing back.

I’m now feeling much better. I know those torn by the tragedies I mentioned will eventually recover in due time. I also know that unfortunately, not everyone makes it; some people lose hope. I know that not all damage can be repaired. But as fractured as our lives become, we do find a way to move on and piece together some new meaning of our existence, and, persistence. In his powerful Ted Talk, Andrew Solomon refers to this process as ‘forging meaning and finding identity’. 

I’ve written about situations I’m close to, but such stories exist all over the world and throughout history. That’s another way Hope reveals itself.

Whatever Hope actually is, I’m glad it exists … and I hope you can find it.

Too short at Twenty-two

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Today was just another day for many; the birthday for someone I know; and the 5 year anniversary of the day that someone I used to know, lost his life.

At 22 years old, Andy was gone before life gave him the chance – or rather unfortunately, there is reason to believe it was the other way around. Who knows what was behind  those passing clouds… if he just waited in the rain.

Instead of brighter days, he’s getting flowers laid.
Instead of creating new memories, he’s fading in ours.
To someone I could have saved, I apologise with a visit to his grave.
We already know this: nothing is promised.
So don’t just live life as if it’s a gift..
be one, so you’ll be missed.  

 

Somethings To Say, Before the Sun Sets

Last sunset

So, I’m home. My one year work assignment in Tonga has come to an end. I made several monthly posts during my experience, but feel I should do one last post to properly see this chapter of my life closed. (You can read all the posts I wrote while away here)

If you haven’t been following my story, here is the gist of it: I moved into a new place, started a new job, hated it, but I went through the motions of working and saving. I booked a 1 month holiday to the USA, but eventually got fired first. I tried finding a job I’d actually enjoy, came very close in a few interviews, discovered an international development / capacity building program, thought why not, applied, got accepted, refunded my planned holiday, moved out, and then spent 2014 overseas.

I was as shocked as everyone else. Having spent my whole life in the one city, it’s something I never considered or saw coming… which was why I believed it was so important to ‘just go with it’ before it got away.

Since leaving childhood, I’ve learned that card tricks, control, and certainty are all illusions.

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It turned out that what appeared to be a sunny tropical island was actually the furtherest from my comfort zone that I’ve ever been.

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I’ve heard it before; you’ve heard it before: sometimes, you’ve got to get uncomfortable. I get it now, I really do. Once we’re past puberty, the only growth we get is voluntary (with the exception of toenails and unwanted hairs.) It’s also excluding physical workouts. I’ve done a lot of those. Lifting twice your bodyweight is uncomfortable, but there is still an element of control: we know we’ll either be successful in the lift or we won’t – and we’re familiar with both outcomes either way.

Real growth is more than just physical; it’s a deeper change than that. And really being uncomfortable means giving up all perceived control and certainty over the situation. Simply put, it means not knowing.

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There was a lot I didn’t know: Where I’d live, what work would be like, who my friends would be, what I’d eat, and what I’d spend my spare time doing. These are all common questions to which I now know the answers; but what really makes going away such an experience is the things that you learn … that you didn’t expect or know you needed to learn.

There was a lot that happened over the year; there is a lot to write about, and there is a lot I already did write about.  Looking back, here are the main things I want you to know… and that I want myself to remember.


1) HAPPINESS IS AN OUTLOOK

I arrived in Tonga feeling sorry for people, but I returned home feeling sorry for myself. I realised I had been sold a dream. I had been told by a combination of my peers, upbringing, and culture – that there were set requirements for being happy. There aren’t. Despite being classed as a ‘developing country,’ people in Tonga smiled, laughed and seemed openly happier. How? Isn’t that the point of all the luxuries and privileges of the the western world? Well, I learned that it’s all about perception.

You can’t enjoy the taste of what you’ve got when you’re sniffing the fumes of what you don’t have.

I coined the above term, but I’m just as guilty of the offence as anyone else. With less disparity between wealth and status, and hardly any mass advertising, people in Tonga can devote their full attention to what they do have – and tend to be happier as the result.

I’d be lying to claim I’ve dropped all my desires since coming back to the western world. Desire and ambition definitely has its place. But given what I’ve learned, I’m definitely trying to remember that

there’s satisfaction in simplicity, and a blessing behind every breath.


2) THE SLOWER YOU GO, THE MORE YOU SEE

Tonga has Tonga Time, Fiji has Fiji Time, and so on. It’s a fact; time moves slower in the South Pacific. As a ‘city rat,’ getting used to a slower pace of life definitely required some adjusting. There were also withdrawals from what I call ‘stimulation addiction,’ to which mobile phones and modern technology are the most common perpetrating paraphernalia. With less internet access, less happening in my environment, and overall, less urgency – I eventually found myself slowing down. And that’s when it happened.

I started to notice more things – rather peculiar things: the positions of the stars, the sound of the sea, the weight of the breeze, the variations of trees and flowers, the way animals behaved, and many other minute details. Of course, in the west, this approach would result in a lot of missed busses, pissed of people, and possibly accusations of staring in public. It’s also not humanly possible or healthy to consciously process everything; but it is worth paying a little bit more attention every now and then. You never know what you may notice.


3) FAITH HAS ITS PLACE

I’ve never been religious. Sure, kinda Buddhist and strangely spiritual; but not religious.  I’ve always respected peoples’ rights to make their own decisions; but it wasn’t until going to Tonga that I actually began to understand why some people choose to believe.

I met people who lived in tin sheds and without access to basic necessities – yet they clutched their bibles as if it was their most vital resource. I met youths who were surround by bad influences and dangerous temptations – yet God was an authority figure they wouldn’t dare to disobey. I met people who made massive sacrifices in their own lives in order to help others – yet they were modest in their contributions and efforts, acknowledging Jesus as their inspiration and mentor.

Across these different circumstances, there was the one how – and the one why: God.

I’ve read The God Delusion, find Sam Harris fascinating, and am aware of the ways religion is exploited as a tool of manipulation – but I can’t disregard the way that religion and faith has proved to be a solid foundation in lives that are otherwise crumbling; the way way it provides clarity to those conflicted between choices; and they way it widely opens the hearts of those in the position to help others.

Religion doesn’t have a place in my life, and it may not have one in yours; but there’s no doubting it has its place in the world. 


4) TALENT CAN FLOURISH ANYWHERE

I had the privilege of meeting some amazingly talented individuals. At 17yrs of age, Paul is a perfect example. This video showcases his talent as a self-taught dancer and choreographer. And he certainly isn’t the only example. It seemed that Tongans had the natural ability to dance, sing, draw, and play sport. This is without the many learning opportunities and resources available in the west. I mean, despite having access to dance schools, video tutorials, and large body-sized mirrors, I definitely got put in my place by the dancers I met in Tonga. Here is a recent video of all of them in action.

Another example is a young woman who went from driving around in a car without windows to modelling in Europe, living a life she didn’t even dream about before. I’m sure there are similar stories emerging from other parts of the world. I’ve also seen similar things on Youtube, but there was something different about encountering this phenomenon in person.

Needless to say, as a person who tends to be quick to place limitations on himself, I left feeling inspired, now knowing what can be achieved with not much more than just passion and dedication.


5) WE’RE ALL UNDER THE SAME STARS

As this was my first extended period of time spent in another culture, I noticed a lot of differences. After enough time, I noticed many underlying similarities: Children cry when they fall over, people smile when they see each other, women like dressing up, and guys give each other crap because they care.

On a deeper level, I realised how we all just want to feel safe, to belong, to care for those close to us, and to feel loved ourselves.  We go about it in different ways, but our motives are the same, as with the emotions we feel. Different continents, countries and cultures don’t change the fact that we’re all people, trying to get by on the sample planet, under the same stars.

This is a great video on the topic.


6) TIME FLIES

I was packing my suitcase to leave, and then unpacking it – what felt like – shortly after. In reality, a whole year had passed. Just like that. I regret the time I initially wasted on deliberating on wether my decision to come to Tonga was the right thing to do because…

time doesn’t cease or slow for our uncertainty; it goes on, taking with it, another opportunity.

We all worry and wonder at times, but it’s important to remember that we won’t be where we are for long, and that we won’t be around for long either.  This fact will motive us all in different ways, but..

we all stand to miss something by standing around.

I was on a tiny island where I felt time moved so slowly, but eventually, it was up. I’ve come home to find people getting married and having children, and myself, once again, at a crossroads. I don’t know what’s next, but I know it will be over before I know it.


I’ve got one years worth of daily journal entries, so I’m sure there is more I could add, but I’m happy to close it off here. The experience taught me a lot, I saw another country but also another side to myself. It stretched my imagination and also made me that much more sturdy, mentally. It’s given me a lot to think about, write about, and share.

To you, the reader: I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my adventure. Maybe you’ll look at your own life differently… or like I did, have the courage to change yours drasictally.

To Tonga:  malo (thank you) and hopefully toki sio (see you later).

It’s going to be all ripe

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The post that started this blog had something to do with a banana.

I was sitting on a park bench during my lunch break, sunny as it’s ever been, yet as grey as I’ve ever felt. Tears rolled off my cheeks as I stared into emptiness, weighed down by a sense of hopelessness. Dramatic or truthful, the feeling was real – real enough for me to seek professional help for the first time.

I did a few sessions with a psychologist which consisted of breathing and visualisation exercises. What scared me the most was the future and the uncertainty surrounding it – but for some reason I clearly saw myself overseas working with a group of youths. Somehow, I was right. I was offered a one-year position at an educational institute in Tonga a few months later. While it was a wonderful and unexpected opportunity and experience, it eventually passed.

1.5 years later, I’m again in the same boat, on the same bench.. scared, doubting myself, comparing myself to others or how ‘it should be’: all the same shit.

But this time I have a sense of optimism that I didn’t have before. I know such sharp variations in feelings and experiences are as commonly experienced as the heat of summer and the chills of winter. Like a loose leaf, this realisation that “I’m not the only one” fell upon me while sitting in the waiting room before my first psychologist appointment in 2013. The fact was always there, I just hadn’t noticed.

This time, I also have a sense of confidence in myself and in the world that I didn’t have before. I’ve made it through many tough times and I will do so again. My recent travels have allowed me to see more of the world and understand how vast life and its possibilities can be.

Looking back, I understand how tunnel vision can be exceptionally dangerous – especially when we think of any light at the end as an oncoming train. A correction of our own train of thought can allow us to rather see it as an opportunity – and to notice all the wonderful things we’re passing on a second-to-second basis. These things are unfortunately often hidden behind walls that we’ve built or had built around us – but thankfully, they’re also walls that can break, and there are a range of tools to help us do the job.

I guess the whole point of this post is just share one simple thing that I’ve learned since I first accepted something wasn’t right:

We’re all in our own cages, tunnels, cells. Regardless what the circumstance that makes us feel like a prisoner is, getting out all starts with the same thing… thinking knowing that it’s going to be all ripe right.

Challenges in Coming Home

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Men dream more about coming home than they do about leaving – The Alchemist

I still remember being in the kitchen with my house mate, casually dicing ingredients of our dinner, when he cut through the silence… rather bluntly.

“You don’t want to go, do you?” He cared not about offending me, certain in the fact that he knew me. A sign of true friendship.

“Of course not,” I replied. Relieved to let out some honesty like the kettle and its steam. I wanted to stay. I didn’t always like what I had, where I was; but I felt safe in the familiar.

After an initial culture shock, Tonga – where I spent 2014 – also became familiar. It was only when I returned home to Australia, that I realised that Tonga, once dreaded and unknown, had also become a place I felt safe.

The year away presented me with so many different experiences: Good times, bad times, better days and worse ones. One thing that kept me going was knowing that I was coming home. So why aren’t things as great as I envisioned?

It’s explained online that some  of the negative experiences of returning home may include:

• Feeling like family and friends don’t understand how you’ve changed and have tired of listening to your stories
• Feeling like you don’t have anything in common with your friends anymore
• Rejection of your own culture, particularly consumerism and affluence
• Constantly comparing practices in Australia with those in your Host Country
• Uncertainty about the future
• Difficulty making decisions
• Feeling misunderstood
• Boredom
• Loss of identity
• Feeling overwhelmed or disorientated

The technical term is “reverse culture shock.”

The most shocking – rather scary – thing to me is how easy it is to fall back into old routines; to be the same old person. Forgetting all those promises I made about changing as the sun would set over the ocean – a shared treasure in Tonga, but a luxury here, reserved for those with water-front homes.

And here I am back in the suburbs, surrounded by things I now know I don’t need, while uncertain about what I need the most. I’m making changes though: no longer going to the gym as much, focusing on development, speaking to a psychologist, spending less time with certain friends, spending more time with my family. So it’s definitely been good to be back – but not as great as I thought it would be.

I guess the truth is that we can’t run – from ourselves or from our responsibilities. Sure, I’ve come back – but with all intentions of going forwards.

 

 

 

 

5 Months Update

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The children of Tonga are learning that Santa Clause may in fact be a Fijian Indian looking guy who sounds like Steve Irwin, and on a bike too suave to be bought locally, he randomly pulls up at street corner stores and buys all the kids in line a chocolate bar. He then rides off without saying no more than a grin.

The man of mystery is of course me. What I’ve described is all part of my discovery of how much further money can go in other countries. Not through the weakness of their currency, but through the strength of my generosity.

A another deed was when a student who works at the school restaurant had her husband attending a dinner to celebrate his birthday. I had already agreed to pay for the cake she was planning to surprise him with. Unfortunately, at the dinner they hadn’t prepared the icing. She was devastated, but I took a photo of them, and surprised her with a framed family photo the next day. When I arrived 5 months ago, lost in town, she gave me directions and paid my bus fair, so I was determined to return the kindness.

The whole ordeal cost no more than $15 Australian Dollars, lunch back home, but here it led to a feeling more fulfilling than a full stomach. Of course buying someone lunch back home would still be kind, but along side the volunteering I was doing here and there, previously without a job, that would be the limit of my capabilities. It’s great to be in a position here where it’s so easy to go above and beyond for others. Even with out the beard and belly, the joy I can bring makes me feel a bit santa-ish.

Other involvements in the community include spending Saturday mornings reading and playing with the local children at Kids Klub. It reminds me of the Wonder Factory at the Childrens’ Hospital in Australia, but with the exception of the Playsations, Xbox’s , Wiis, and hundreds of board games and toys. That doesn’t mean the kids in Tonga don’t laugh just a loud or smile as sincerely. I’m really enjoying it, though it’s a challenge explaining how I’m Australian… but don’t look like the others.

Through my involvement in the ICON youth group, I got to participate in a charity day, venturing to some eye opening areas of the country. Regardless of the surroundings, and the fact I was in a traditional Tongan outfit, I still took the chance to break out into a dance when Justin Bieber – Baby came blaring out of one of the teenager’s phones. It seems we all can fit music and dance into our lives. This was another of the many experiences I’ve had here that convince me it’s a language of its own. Commonly understood, and uniting people regardless of their origins or differences.

I wrote more about that specific experience here. Meanwhile, this month allowed me the chance to personally get closer to ICON’s members. I learned about the difference that the group had made in their lives. Giving them a creative outlet and steering them off the path of alcohol and drugs, which is unfortunately so accessible and temping when unemployment is common, and opportunities sparse. To a degree I could definitely relate, dancing and music didn’t save me from anything, but certainly gave me a lot more to look forward too.

In the context of work and my actual volunteer assignment, there has also been revelations. I created a new revenue stream and learning experience at my school, successfully organising a student-run tour for the guests of a visiting P&O cruise ship. There was also a promising phone call from a CEO, and the start of a relationship with a Marketing Manager whose working experiencing spans the same amount of years that I’ve been alive.

However, things weren’t always so pleasant. I’ve made the mistake in the past of not voicing my concerns to my employers, but with the sacrifices and investments I’ve made, I found it crucial to speak up when I felt my assignment wasn’t progressing as successfully as it could. It wasn’t easy, but the outcome as worth it. Adjustments have been made, and feeling more supported, I’m really excited about what I can accomplish during the final half of my assignment.

I plan to aim high, but the expectations I put on myself, and the attachments I form to specific outcomes,  have unfortunately been at times, a burden, my downfall, and a source of unneeded stress. The stress is a slippery slope, and before long, I’m nervously anticipating where I’ll end up after this, and questioning if I was even correct in my decision to come here. Once I’ve slid all the way to the bottom, I’m almost certain of my failure based on a past that I’m not always proud of.

Helping me climb my way back to the top were the authors Kamal Ravikant – Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It and Brene Brown – Gifts Of Imperfection with  quotes like these and  plenty of more practical advice in their respective books..

 “The key, at least for me, has been to let go. Let go of the ego, let go of attachments, leg go of who I think I should be, who others think I should be. And as I do that, the real me emerges, far far better than the Kamal I projected to the world. There is a strength in this vulnerability that cannot be described, only experience.” – Kamal Ravikant

“Faith is a place of mystery where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty” – Brene Brown

 

After the books are closed, if I’m still not close enough to where I want to be, I can always count on the outreached hands of my friends. They digitally cross the distance between us through phone calls, Skype video calls, emails and the occasional Facebook comments. Of course I’ve also been lucky to meet some great people during my time here. Overall, the acquisition of new friends and the separation from existing ones has shown me how crucial the right kind of company and support is. No matter where you are in the world.

That’s pretty much it for me. Between chilling by the water, playing ultimate frisbee, getting chased by dogs, writing the best wedding speech ever, and planning my holiday to Fiji, I’m getting excited to start my next special project since finishing my ebook. This one definitely won’t come as quickly or easy, as its already been a goal for almost 3 years now. Frustrated and close to giving up on it already, a quote by Layne Norton in his video blog on Happiness and Accomplishments, got me to reconsider, so stay tuned.

“What does quitting do for you? You have a goal but you say it’s too hard or it’s taking too long, so you decide to quit. Do you suddenly magically not want that thing anymore? Of course not” – Layne Norton

For the Boy Under the Bridge, I’ve personally received praise from an author I look up to, had another author post a photo of my book on Facebook to an audience of over 100K, I painted and branded a bin that will be placed in a popular waterfront area, I’ve had more people connect with me on forums, and I’ve even had a skype call with my first ever proper fan from across the other side of the world! She’s quite a number, but I heard staying single is better for sales. I’m also working on a new type of content, so once again, stayed tuned.

At 11.55pm there is 5 minutes until June 2014 is over. I’m sitting in a backyard club house creatively constructed out of an array of materials. It’s holding around 20 Tongan guys, some drinking a traditional drink called Kava, the rest playing the not so traditional game of Jenga which I brought over from Australia. With a laptop full of music, Im also acting as the DJ while I’m typing away. Someone requests Audio Slave, I put on “Like a Stone” and together we all start to sing…

In your house I long to be;
Room by room patiently,
I’ll wait for you there like a stone.
I’ll wait for you there alone.

 

The Boy turns 1

 

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When I opened my blog 1 year ago, I adopted an anonymous identity and opened an expressive outlet. I wanted to figure out the puzzle life is, and with all the peaks and valleys, I wanted to know the destination of the journey it was becoming. I’d been writing in my own journals for a few years, and figured going online would give others the chance to chip into the conversation of one. Honestly speaking, In the back of my mind, I felt nobody would care too much about what a ‘nobody’ has to say.

I chuckled to myself as I wondered “let’s see how long this lasts”. Well, it has lasted. When I got my first comment and had my first conversation with a random girl from the UK, I started to think differently about the potential of this hobby that was originally just for my own benefit and enjoyment.

Oddly, she cared about the 40 simple things that I enjoyed. Another person from Melbourne took a keen interest in the 13 lessons 2013 taught me, sharing her own experiences. In between, I’ve had many other comments, emails and private messages from other people from around the world. Most notable is a friend from Hawaii, who shares my middle name, and took an interest in my life because I remind him of a younger version of himself. If you’re worried I’m talking to weirdos of the internet, well I’ve even met someone very like minded in Brisbane before I took of for Tonga and he went his way to Cambodia.

Once I hit 100 posts, I had the idea of taking my favourite 5 and putting them into an ‘ebook’.  But I had come so far, I felt I had keep going in that direction. I had an idea come to me, and I felt I could do better than just writing a typical book. With a lot of hard work, my ebook Living in Cream was completed in April 1st this year. I felt so proud of myself, that the responses to come wouldn’t matter. But once again, its been great to hear from people I know, and many I don’t. In as many ways technology can push people apart, it can bring us together.

I was initially worried about running out of content, but it’s when I run out of days, that I’ll run out of pages. Writing has truly changed my life, and allowed me to help others in the same way, in turn, adding more value to my life.

I’m far from ‘viral’ or making any sort of living of this. Many may wonder why I bother (..maybe the same kind of people that spend their time sharing memes). I’ve often wondered that, but every now and then I get reminded why. Beyond website visitors and Facebook likes, there is something real that you can’t quantify, but you know it when you feel it.  Writing has helped me to find it. I encourage you to do whatever it is that helps you do the same.

We don’t become somebody. We are somebody. We all have a story, and you’ll be surprised who listens when you find the courage to share yours. We’re all in this journey together, and you’ll be surprised at who is heading in your direction. Regardless if you ‘make it’ to the destination, you’ll be glad to have those people by your side.

It’s not the destination, it’s not just the journey, it’s the company.

I’m just getting started, but thank you for the support.

websitehttp://www.boyunderthebridge.com

ebook – http://eepurl.com/RxP5f

Sail Away

I set sail to see you again

asking you to stay while I left.

I bartered being close and oblivious

to feel far and missed.

Ungratefulness fuels the ambitious

who never slow in sought of the their prize.

If they slow their decision

they would know they have already arrived.

Welcome Home

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Home

Home. Four simple letters and perhaps for the purpose that it’s a word so essential to our earliest and deepest expressions. Any disgruntled child can often be heard screaming that they want to go there.

As we get older we may find ourselves doing the screaming as we detest the very same place. But once the storm of unbalanced hormones and teenage angst settles, as adults we hopefully look at home in a favourable light. Associating it with positive memories, love, comfort and safety.

Eventually we realise that the same wind that blew through the backyard where we played, can take us anywhere in the world.

We fly the nest.

This is when the word we learned at such an early age gets redefined. This happens at different times, some spread their swings much sooner than others.

Since taking flight, I’ve landed in three different locations, enjoying the comfort and company of those heading in the same direction. Never too far from my first home however, I never had a problem settling in.

Then came my latest and furtherest journey, which once again redefined the word I thought I knew. I’m overseas on an volunteer assignment in a developing country which means a very different environment .

As I first struggled to settle in while in temporary accommodation, things turned around once I found a room to call my own, with similar people, and the chance to do the things , that while simple and a few, are the foundation of an enjoyable day. Writing, meditation, dancing, listening to music, exercise, endless joking etc.

So home isn’t the place you grew up. Home isn’t the place you’re currently located or where your stuff is. Home is where ever and when ever it is that you feel at the most, yourself.