Home is the most magical word in the English language, the place, as poet Robert Frost said, where they have to take you in, no matter where you came from.
But where is home for the emigrant? As one of 35 years standing, who left Ireland in 1979 and has lived well over half of his life in America, I am still confused.
When I see the green fields of Ireland in the early morning light from my Aer Lingus jet as it approaches landing I feel profoundly home. Equally, when the lights of New York appear on the return trip, I feel just as soundly at home.
The confusion came back to me when the new Obama executive action came out and scores of emigrants I spoke with, some out of Ireland over two decades, referred to “going home” as if they had just left.
So I said home to you is still Ireland? All said yes but were a little confused because America was clearly home too.
The simplest explanation is that home is where the heart is but what if the heart is bifurcated, split evenly between adopted home and birth home?
The things I love about Ireland and what makes it home are my memories, family, special times of the year like Christmas or mid-summer, special occasions, good friends.
Then there is the always present political intrigue, the bitchy gossip, talking and walking,the sport, the small country feel that everyone is in on the game.
Above all the intimacy of a small country where the leader is “Enda” or “Bertie” and everyone has run into U2 at some point – and left them alone.
Then there’s America where there is family, friends, career, wonderful holidays like Thanksgiving, football, political drama where it really counts, a vast continent waiting to be explored – a journey where it is almost better never to fully arrive but to keep taking in the experiences.
Obama said something very profound in his immigration speech talking about America. ”We were all strangers once.”
That indeed is the lot of the emigrant to be stranger both in their new country and eventually a stranger of sorts in the old the longer they stay away.
I could relate to that. I remember my first Thanksgiving spent in a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco wondering what this weird holiday was about.
Now of course I embrace it lovingly and enjoy it as much as Christmas with all its childhood memories and family ties.
I get the best of both homes. So this Christmas I will be home in America for the big day and home in Ireland two days later for that wonderful stretch between Christmas and New Year's when the country and the clock stops and everyone relaxes.
So an emigrant gets to have two homes, two places in the heart that are forever dear to him or her.
Those emigrants who have not been home will be home in a profound way when they eventually go back to Ireland and will also have their homes in America to return to.
So we can carry a seeming contradictory thought in our heads as emigrants. We have two homes, two places where they have to take us in – and hooray for that.
In the end home is where you were born and also where you make it.