Hard Truths, Chapter 4.17:
The Smell of Home

When you walk through your own front door each day, you don’t notice the smell. Unless you have cats. On occasion, they remind you right quick with a hunk of barf on the sofa. Thanks, cat. Ooooo – that smell.

But you don’t notice the tinge of hardwood or the lingering aroma of a flowering plant. The dab of chicken and rice you made last night or the scent of your laundry detergent that’s on, literally, everything.

When you pop outside your own bubble for a few days and get accustomed to the taste of a brilliant bacon, egg, and cheese bagel. The coffee in your AirBNB. Peaked roofs and gas lamps on porches. The scent of someone else’s bedsheets and the how-dos from strangers.

You notice the difference between home and not home. And your mind shifts for the better.

I’ve found “not home” on the paths of Mt. Kilimanjaro, monkeys swaying through the trees and conversations in nearly every broken tongue imaginable — yet somehow, everyone understands one another perfectly. Communication: Redefined. And your mind shifts for the better.

In Nairobi, where simply walking through a duty-free shop brought me treasures, questions, and discoveries. And that little girl who giggled and giggled and giggled (did I say giggled?) as her father tickled her with a stuffed Nemo. Familiar in a foreign land: achieved. And your mind shifts for the better.

In Istanbul, where folks from lands far and wide shuttle and shuffle to find a connection — both human and mechanical. Where there are less people who look like you and more who look like the ones who are a supposed threat (ugh, we can do better, can’t we?). And you begin to think that — perhaps to them, YOU are the threat. Convention: Challenged. And your mind shifts for the better.

In Thailand, where sex can be currency, the black market is the market, smiles are wider than you’ve ever seen, and the pineapple is the best you’ve tasted — and you realize on a cold hotel bathroom room floor one night why they told you only to drink bottled water. Lesson: Learned. And your mind shifts for the better.

In Houston, which will always be home-home, where you’ll find lifelong friends and the place that knows how to do barbecue up right and every stretch of freeway and feeder road bring you to a memory that makes you smile (and if from high school, maybe a cringe). Childhood: Relived. And your mind shifts for the better.

In Tokyo and Yokohama, where my feet were laughably big (you gajin!) for local standards and my mind blown because the Japanese know how to do-up a dollar (100 Yen) store right. Like, we could take LESSONS in dollar store amazing for DAYS. Where your English students ask you why “truck is on fire” when clearly, the “fire is on truck” and you squint. Shrug. And you say, “Toshi, that is a great question. English is a weird language” because what else can you say?! It’s super weird. Where you shopped one day at a time instead of by the carload-full. Thought process and behavior: Questioned. And your mind shifts for the better.

Because as you head home, you get to take pieces of all those things with you. And your mind shifts for the better.

When you finally walk through your front door, whether you’ve been gone for two days or two months, it smells like home. And you don’t even realize it until the scent weaves its way through your nose and into your heart.

You’re home. And you’d nearly forgotten how good it smells to be here.

And with any luck, your soul has changed a bit. You’ve absorbed people and places and meals and conversations. Bits of humanity that would’ve escaped you if you hadn’t…well, left home.

Make no mistake — the cat would have barfed anyway (his “Vomit Comet” nickname isn’t without merit). But hopefully, the world barfed on you a bit while you were wandering about.

And no matter how uncomfortable, you let a bit seep into your soul’s fabric before washing it off with that brand of detergent that smells so familiar.

So today, one question: What’s the coolest “thing” you’ve ever brought home?

An idea. An item. A feeling. A soulmate. Lay it on me, gorgeous. And tell me how it/he/she/they/ze have added to this home that smells so amazing when you walk through the door.

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