‘I’m really going to miss this place’ I thought as I sipped over one of my last Spanish espressos and stared out the window to watch people go by a little street full of cafes and restaurants in the beautiful city of Madrid.
The old adage ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ had never felt truer. ‘Yet perhaps the fondness is always there,’ I thought to myself, ‘the absence only makes you see how strongly you feel.’
Whereas it was so funny two months ago to point out all the downsides of this city, to compare it unfavorably to every other Spanish city we visited – vegetarian food seemed abundant everywhere but Madrid – and to roll our eyes over daily Madrid mishaps – “I just spent 20 minutes looking for a bar of soap, and no one seemed to know what I was talking about, seriously!?” – now those same faults seemed like laughable, even endearing quirks. It was as though I now understood the city to be like a crazy old great aunt – loveably flawed and undeniably special in her strangeness.
More than anything, I had recently noticed the feeling I got in my stomach as I prepared for my final flight back to the Madrid Barajas airport – Madrid being our last stop before we returned to the US.
It was a familiar feeling you could say, one I’d felt numerous times in the past few months when thinking about Chicago. Everything would be going fine in Spain, but when I would think of my parents, aunts, uncle, cousins, and grandmother crowded around the coffee table having cheese and crackers and exchanging their last weeks’ stories before the regular Friday night dinner, I would experience a little ball of warmth that started in my stomach and spread throughout my body until it found my feet and fingers and warmed them too, until it found my lips and curved them upwards, leaving me in a happy little daydream – not homesickness really, just a certainty that when the time came to return home, I would be ready.
So my stomach with its independent mind had surprised me that Monday when it gave me the same warm, daydream-like sensation as I handed my ticket marked “Madrid” over to the attendant in the airport to be stamped. Although I still felt happy to soon be going back to Chicago, that excitement to be in Madrid made me realize that I had one more place in the world that I could call my home and dream of flying back to one day with a true smile on my face.
At my high school, it is tradition that each departing senior carves a wooden plaque that hangs on one of the school’s walls and becomes a part of the landscape. Though I deliberated on what I would etch into my literal “lasting mark” on my school, I settled on an idea that had been forming in my mind since I’d begun to realize that my boarding school’s community had become my own – adding to the communities I already felt I had in Chicago and at summer camp in Maine.
I finally consolidated these feelings into words and carved them into my plaque, along with the simple representation of a heart locket – “Home is where the heart feels welcome.” Within my heart I contain many homes because my heart is welcome in many places – I am happy to realize that Madrid has become one of them.