Tuesday, April 15, 2008

No place to call home

Home: A place of origin. The center of the family universe. The storehouse of memories. The foundation of identity.

So what is home and where, or how, do you find it?

This is an issue I have struggled with all of my life. Part of the problem may be related to some confusion of “house” versus “home” which we tend to use interchangeably in casual conversation but at heart have different meanings. For instance I have always had a roof over my head, but still I have always had the sense that I have been looking for home and never quite finding it.

I set out in earnest to find home a few years ago. Having spent most of my life moving from place to place I haven’t always been sure where home was. Often the question I have struggled to answer has been “is home where we are now or is it where we used to be?” What I have slowly come to realize is that at least for me the answer is neither and both.

Many of you, especially those who have never or at least rarely moved, may wonder at such a declaration. However, after spending quite a bit of time and effort going back to several of the places I lived and finding that none of them resonated in me a sense of being “home” I turned to reflecting on why. But it wasn’t until I heard a segment of NPR’s Susan Stamberg’s “No Place Like Home” series in December 2003 that the reasons jelled and from that jumping-off point I was able to set about constructing my own sense of home.

Like Susan’s interviewee that morning, all of my relocations had served to insinuate me into new communities with new cultural norms and standards. Where the average child from my era mostly grew up in one house, or at least one community, and spent his or her youth honing their skills around one set of norms I have continually been required to absorb, adapt and fit into a new culture every few years.

The cultural upheaval has had two effects. First, I have developed a great deal of cultural sensitivity. I am aware that there is more than one way to do everything and most aren’t the ways I would choose personally but in order to fit in and participate in community personal modifications become necessary. This has led to the second effect in that at each of the communities where I have lived I amputated a part of my previous self in order to graft in the cultural components necessary to function in the current community.

What I have finally come to realize is that, unlike others for whom a place or a group of people is home, the place where I am at home – where I go to find home – is within myself. Those journeys I took to the places where I used to live were not in vain just because they turned out not to be home, but rather they became an opportunity to gather to myself all of my missing pieces. So, now I no longer see myself as homeless or lost. Who I am and what is home is not just the parts I set aside to fit in nor is it only the person I am today. My home is made up of both parts, those I use everyday and those I have rediscovered and replaced in my archives like missing pages or notations from a family Bible.

In a way, all the places I have lived have become like rooms in a house with their own features and themes and furnishings. No one room in this virtual house can be my home nor could that virtual house be home without each of those rooms. Like a house that is a home, the different rooms hold different meanings for the various stages of my life. And just like the rooms of one’s childhood home those rooms have good memories as well as some that are not so pleasant but the intermingling threads weave together like a tapestry that only reveals the image after all of the threads are laid down.

So nowadays when I long for home I look within and wander through the rooms of my heart and cherish the tapestries on each wall.

This was written in part as an entry in Scribbit’s April Write-Away Contest “Going Home.”


Scribbit said...

My husband lived in so many places growing up that he was never sure where to say he was "from". He's finally been able to feel like ALaska is home.

Melissa Donovan said...

As I was reading the first half of this, I kept thinking, home is inside each of us. Then, of course, I came to the line:

"the place where I am at home – where I go to find home – is within myself."

...and I smiled, because once we realize that is where home truly exists, we can find peace.

Melissa Donovan

G's Cottage said...

@Scribbit - That's interesting that you used "from." I have tended to answer the question "where are you from?" (and maybe this is military wife-speak) as the previous station we were assigned to. It has been the question phrased "so where is home?" that has always set me to stammering like I had two tongues.

@Melissa - It's funny that you knew that intrinsically. I spent a lot of effort creating a sense of home to ground the children wherever we lived even though I felt rather ungrounded. It was a given that as military we would move but moving was positive because it meant we were successful. But also, as a military wife there was nowhere else I longed to be so I created a family sense of home wherever we were.

I think that my mother secretly always wanted to go back and live where she grew up but dad only had work there a short time so I think she didn't get attached to any place else which left us rootless. When I moved as a child it was because dad had hacked-off another employer. All of the tension could not but have had a negative effect in creating an interior home as a child and young adult. But it took steeping back and looking at it from a different perspective to start "getting it."

chelle said...

I have moved a lot the past few years. Your right home is inside ... but sometimes that feels unsettled too. Ever so important to be comfortable with yourself.

Daisy said...

Cherish the tapestries within -- what a peaceful and thoughtful philosophy.

Jon King said...

As a child and now a parent I have often contemplated this topic. Reflecting back the places I most often have felt at home have had more to do with higher levels of connectivity. For me that translates into places where I felt the most alive as a result of connecting with my family, the activities, and surroundings.

As a kid, our family would retreat to a secluded location in northern Michigan. We functioned best as a family there, the activities were moving and memorable. Memories of that time in my life are so strong they are haunting. I have never lived there, yet it still feels like home.

Because if this and other research I have conducted, I believe house is where we live, but a home is where we come alive.

This is a beautifully written post and a wonderfully rich topic. Thank you for bringing it to the table.