Last year I saw The Book of Mormon. Parts were offensive, parts were hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the music. But my favorite part of the story can be summed up in one word: Orlando.
The story centers around a lot of things, but one of the main parts is that Elder Price is a Mormon missionary about to be sent on his mission, the defining moment of his young adult life, and he wants to go to Orlando. Price has never been to Orlando, but he reasons that it’s the best place in the world, and it’s the place where he belongs.
Of course, this story wouldn’t be a good story if Price simply decided he wanted to go to Orlando and then he got to go there. Where’s the drama? Where’s the pain? Well, turns out it’s in Uganda. That’s where Price gets sent, much to his chagrin. And not only does he get sent to not Orlando, but he gets sent with a very un-Orlando-ish person, Elder Cunningham. Cunningham is uncool and unworthy of being Price’s buddy, and Price is pissed. This is not how things were supposed to go.
I won’t give away what happens, but at a certain point Price decides he’s had enough. He leaves. He gets to Orlando! And…
Orlando is okay. Nothing to write home about, really. Enough to sing a song over, but not worth staying. Price decides that perhaps feeling fulfilled and wanted and valued is more important than living in some location that was pre-determined as perfect. He returns to Africa, to a community that accepts and needs him, and to doing something that he’s passionate about. And that becomes his “Orlando.” Turns out that Orlando isn’t a geographic location; it’s a place in your heart. (Awwww) It’s a place where you feel that you belong, and it may be because of a person or a mission or anything else. But I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not about that place itself.
Home becomes home when emotions and traditions wrap around place. Yes, we can love a place for what we find there. But for those of us who are lucky enough to be in that part of life in which we get to choose where we want to be, beautiful places with fun stuff to do aren’t enough. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want somewhere that feels like home. My Orlando.
Let’s switch gears.
One of my favorite childhood movies, Sweet Home Alabama, tells the story of a woman named Melanie who grows up in the deep south, in Alabama. She marries her childhood sweetheart, Jake, but eventually decides that she needs a change. She leaves Jake and moves to a completely different place- New York City. There she finds the suave and delightful Yankee Andrew, the picture of a perfect boyfriend, nothing like her old, flawed, unpolished Jake. Melanie finally has it figured out (she’s finally made it from Alabama to “Orlando,” if you will). She’s ready to marry Andrew.
But this is a romantic comedy, so you know it’s not that easy. Melanie has to return home to tie up some loose ends with Jake before she can marry Andrew. Once there, as you’d probably predict, she starts to second-guess herself. Finally, it’s wedding day.
Melanie looks up at the perfect and wonderful Andrew (a.k.a “Orlando”) and says, “You don’t want to marry me. Not really. You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago. My whole heart. And I never really got it back.”
And now I beautifully tie everything together.
I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, located in Los Angeles. During my time at USC I had a love-hate relationship with LA. I anguished endlessly over finding the perfect place to live; LA was alright, but I had some problems with it. “I can’t live in a place where you have to take unprotected left turns,” I would say. “It shows that LA isn’t right for me.” I needed to find my Orlando.
And so I left. Maybe Orlando was on the other side of the country, so I drove clear across to Boston. There are so many things I love here- public transportation, how it feels like a small town, my school community. Like Orlando, Boston has many great things. But, ultimately, it’s not where my heart is.
I gave my heart away a long time ago. I gave it away every time my family arrived at LAX when I was a kid, and the first thing I saw were those palm trees. I gave it away when I celebrated Thanksgivings in Lancaster. I gave it away, all of it, when life centered around football, and everything else was put on hold to be a part of this electric and incredible nation of Trojans. I gave my heart away in LA, my whole heart, and I never really got it back.
So I’m going back to find it.
On this day in 2010 I sat on the floor of a hotel in LA and officially decided that I was going to USC. What a great day this is, because here I sit in a school hallway in Boston, making it official: I’m going back again.