But taken all together, isn't that good enough? I'll never be a native here—which seems OK. I'm already a native someplace else, but I like it here better. Plus, we're all Americans. (It's not as if I was French.) Isn't that a persuasive profession of faith? Can authenticity only be a matter of accidents—of fate and temperament? I've always imagined my authenticity (which may be as close as I get to a real sense of home) depended on something else—something less, well, official. "To find my home in one sentence," the poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote, "concise, as if hammered in metal." Something along those lines seems right and makes anything else just a matter of real estate.
Home doesn't get any clearer than this for me. Most of the ageless essences I've sought and ultimately failed to inhabit in the pure and purifying way I thought I should and was sure everyone else did (I'm talking about home, love, victory, vocation, spirituality, loss, grief—all the big-ticket items), I finally had to conclude weren't perfectly inhabitable anyway. One size doesn't fit all, if it ever fits any of us. All the ageless essences demand not to be squeezed into like an ill-fitting suit, but rather to be incantations to flights of fruitful imagination, like a jollier version of the emperor's new clothes, which put on display—favorably, in my version—merely who the wearer is. Home, then, is whatever I say it is, even if it's just for today and I change my mind tomorrow. It's enough for me that, after all these years, I still can even think about home, still imagine it as a sweet notion—ever offshore, ever out of my reach, a place locked in a dream.
Richard Ford's latest novel, The Lay of the Land, was recently issued in paperback.