Homecoming in a New Land

Returning to a home where I’ve never been

Aaron Mayer
3 min readJan 25, 2023

[Cross-posted on Substack — follow for more]

Today, I landed in SFO airport and took a taxi to my new community house in San Francisco.

Even though I’ve never visited SF for more than a few weeks at time, I felt as if I were returning home. It was so striking to experience the sensation of homecoming, despite never having had a home here in California. It made me think of a quote I once heard, though Google can’t seem to help me determine who said it.

“The west is the east of the west.”

The quote speaks to how east coasters like myself tend to dream of the frontier, and that we have for centuries. In the western hemisphere, the west coast of the US is more akin to the mysterious far east that the Europeans romanticized when they dreamt of India and China (though we should acknowledge their rapacious appetites for resources and their colonial intents).

California definitely feels like a great mystery to me, and it’s emitted a gravitational pull on my body ever since I heard a Joni Mitchell recording of its namesake song. “California, California I’m coming home.”

I remember hearing a poem that Rabbi Judah Halevi composed about Zion while living in Spain. He wrote “My body is in the west, but my heart is in the east.” I can recall how deeply moved I was by those words — bearing witness to another person’s pain at feeling out of place, as if he knew in his bones that he belonged elsewhere.

Humans are migratory animals, and motion is imbued in our nature, so it’s a bit of a tragedy that we can only occupy one point in spacetime. As the Yiddish expression goes, “with one tush, you can’t dance at two weddings.” There’s a universally known feeling of longing to be elsewhere. We’ve all experienced that feeling at one time another, perhaps to a greater or lesser degree, but experienced nonetheless. When we know that we ought to be somewhere else, our hearts yearn and our feet itch to set forth.

I’ve been on the road for the past 2+ years, being a digital nomad and living out of a suitcase. It was a dream, traveling to Hawaii, Alaska, France, Argentina, Colombia, Israel, and more, tasting different cultures and meeting incredible new people. After so many months away from my home in New York City, though, I felt the inverse of the feeling I just described. Rather than longing to set forth for new destinations, I experienced the equally powerful longing to return home.

The only problem: I no longer had a home to return to.

I never had an apartment of my own in NYC, and even though that’s where I grew up, I didn’t have a place I called home. While I’ll always love the city, I realized that the urge to return home wasn’t actually calling me to New York, it was calling me to San Francisco.

I’ve loved SF since the moment I first visited in 2016. Even though I’ve only spent a combined total of 2 or 3 months here, I’ve always had an immense affinity for the Bay. I adore the community housing culture, I’m a huge fan of the beautiful buildings, and most importantly, so many of my dearest friends live here. It’s such a joy to finally be in a city where 80% of my friends live. Think about it: if 80% of your friends moved to Siberia, you’d be tempted to move to Siberia too.

So here I am — writing this ode to a new home at The Center, sipping a saffron spice latte next to my wonderful friend (and new roommate!) Sean, scheming of all the events we’re going to host and all the parties we want to throw. I’ve been skipping down every street since arriving here, basking in the gold of the sun, reveling in the fact that I stowed away my winter coat in January.

Ah, to be home, to be home at last! After 2 long years and a whole lifetime apart, California, California I’m coming home!

An ornate map of the state of California, digital art