Several weeks ago, inside a gymnasium in a small village in the north of France, I was engaged in a conversation with a Syrian refugee who was playing recreational soccer with the local Frenchies.
We discussed the horrors that were happening in his hometown of Aleppo, and he told me that no matter how awful it looked on American televised news, it was much more terrible in person.
The Syrian, who appeared to be in his mid-20s and spoke excellent English, told me he had decided to finish his education in France and make that European country his home. He and his Syrian buddies were in the small town awaiting their work permits from the French government.
When the evening's soccer play was over, I wished him good luck with his future. He wished me safe travels.
A few weeks later, on the flight back to the U.S., I thought of that young man. I am the fortunate one, I told myself. I have a home to return to.
Home. Poets have waxed eloquent about it (“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned,” wrote Maya Angelou), singers have crooned about it (Paul Simon's "Homeward Bound") and filmmakers have used it as their set ("Home Alone").
When I need wisdom, I often turn to my mentor and guru. That would be my grandson, 2-year-old Joaquin Dean Avalos. I have yet to hear Joaquin utter the words "Fresno," where he lives with his Mami and Papi, or "Selma," where he often spends time with us, his grandparents.
However, when Joaquin is visiting here with his parents, and he believes the visit has run its course, you can hear him say a most important word: "Casa!"
Its meaning is unmistakeable: "Take me home."
Kid, I know just how you feel, because as much as I love to travel, I love coming home just as much.
That means home to Selma. To my house, yard and friendly neighbors. To a downtown with a thriving arts scene featuring a beautiful theater and colorful murals. To a high school which won five Valley championships in the just-ended school year. To my favorite restaurants and my favorite library and my favorite grocery stores. To my pickleball friends, my golf buddies and my church family.
Also, to a town with problems as serious as gunfire in residential neighborhoods and as seemingly frivolous as guys riding bicycles on sidewalks.
As travelers, we leave our homes to visit great places and see world-class attractions. To climb mountains and swim in oceans.
In Selma, we know we are not Paris, Hong Kong, Hawaii or the Grand Canyon, but for those of us who live here, there's something that always brings us back.
It's called home. For the vast majority of us, it is our comfort zone, our safe house.
So go ahead, take off this summer. Go to the coast or the Sierra. Go to San Francisco or Los Angeles for a baseball game. Get onto an airplane and fly across the world or take a boat cruise up a river. World-class museums await. So do historic monuments and majestic peaks.
But when your trip is done, get back in your car, airplane or train to come back to Selma,and heed the words from Irish author George A. Moore: "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it."