What Home Means

As the second session of TEDxOKC was starting, the moderator announced that there was an adjustment to the schedule. A surprise speaker would be filling the next slot. Considering the resumes of the other speakers on the schedule, I knew this person would be well qualified and present a unique perspective to a world-changing viewpoint.

He delivered. The speaker was Anthony Shadid. While the rest of the crowd started clapping profusely, his name meant nothing to me. I felt out of the loop.

During his introduction, I realized we were all in for a treat. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning correspondent for the New York Times in the Middle East and had recently returned from Libya, where he had been held as a prisoner under the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

Needless to say, he had my attention.

He slowly walked up the stairs and struggled to take his reach the chair waiting for him on the stage. His slow movement was the result of being shot in the back while reporting in the Middle East a few years ago.

He began with enthusiasm radiating from his body. Insider views from the Middle East flowed from his mouth. I sat on the edge of my seat taking in the first hand experiences he was sharing.

A few minutes into the presentation, he shifted gears. He started to talk about home, which to him was Oklahoma. The mood changed in the room. What had been a grown man telling stories of his amazing adventures of the Arabic World suddenly changed. His face became more vulnerable and personal.

After an extended pause, he stated with heartfelt emotion, “As I sat in the jail cell in Libya just a few days ago, I found myself longing for home.” Another pause brought the room to complete silence. This was no longer a man simply talking to an audience of relatively unknown strangers. This was a man opening up and expressing emotions each of us feel yet few experience.

The next statement struck me with its honesty. “Home becomes more important when you fear you may not be able to come back to it.”

I am not sure what he said for the rest of his speech. This one statement was all I could think about. Its simplicity yet truthfulness consumed me. Hurriedly I wrote it down in my notebook.

While I hope none of you ever find yourself in a position like Anthony Shadid, I do hope that you will truly cherish wherever home is to you. It is not the geographical place, but rather the friends, family, shared experiences, and piece of your life that makes it special.

--Originally published on April 9, 2011.