Sunday, July 1, 2012

Home at the crossroads

The following is from Jeanette Winterson's memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal:

"The Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade talks about home--ontological as well as geographical home--and in a lovely phrase, he calls home 'the heart of the real.'

"Home he tells us, is the intersection of two lines--the vertical and the horizontal. The vertical plane has heaven, or theupper world, at one end, and the world of thedead at the other end. The horizontal plane is the traffic of this world, moving to and fro--our own traffic and that of teeming others.

"Home was a place of order. A place where the order of things come together--the living and the dead--the spirits of the ancestors and the present inhabitants, and the gathering  up and stilling of all the to-and-fro.

"Leaving home can only happen because there is a home to leave. And the leaving is never just a geographical or spatial separation; it is an emotional separation--wanted or unwanted. Steady or ambivalent.

"For the refugee, for the homeless, the lack of this crucial coordinate in the placing of the self has severe consequences. At best it must be managed, made up for in some way. At worst, a displaced person, literally, does not know which way is up, because there is no true north. No compass point. Home is much more than shelter; homne is our centre of gravity.

"A nomadic people learn to take their homes with them--and the familiar objects are spread out or re-erected from place to place. When we move house, we take with us the invisible concept of home--but it is a very powerful concept. Mental health and emotional continuity do not require us to stay in th same house or the same place, but they do require a sturdy structure on the inside--and that structure is built in part by what has happened on the outside. The inside and the outside of our lives are each the shell where we learn to live." (58-59)

home sweet home

Photo credit:

My family then, living far-flung across the globe, must take advantage of  intersections--moments when our lives converge, wherever that might happen: cyberspace, random meeting places, holidays. We have to enter our shared Home space wherever and however we can and build  a circle of belonging that does not depend on physical proximity but on the internal knowledge of mutual love and acceptance.

When I think of building a home for my child in an age when face-to-face interactions are approaching the status of endangered species I see that it is the ontological home that will have to trump the geographical one. The chances that my children will settle near me are probably slim. Like my own parents I will face a terrible loss when my babies succumb to the allure of the world, aided by easy transportation that can fling you to the furthest reaches of the planet within hours. No concrete foundation will hold them here, so it is only the internal home that stands a chance of survival.

How do you make a child feel that they are at home? For that matter how does an adult build a new sense of home when their childhood home is far away? I believe it has something to do with true recognition. Home is acheived through being deeply and completely recognized by the people around you. Home is impossible without feeling that your essential self is fundamentally seen and accepted. Homecoming always involves scanning the distance for the forms of those you love and then experiencing a moment of recognition when they step out of the crowd to greet you and welcome you back to a space of unwavering belonging. Home can happen whenever and wherever complete recognition is enacted. But this recognition takes work. It takes an open heart and movement towards empathy. It takes focus and diligence to see to the core of someone and recognize kinship with them. That is what I hope for my own family--a constant sense that each family member is seen, with no one being relegated to shadowy corners where they feel misunderstood and invisible. I aim to constantly scan the landscape and extend recognition and welcome to those that appear on the horizon. The best thing about home is that it is endlessly expansive and can exist anywhere if we nomads are strong enough to carry it with us. That strength comes through the practise of vision, honing in on someone and holding them in your sights, in your mind, in your heart, forever. That is how home is made eternal.