Significant changes happen to everyone during the course a
lifetime. There are certain key experiences or "passages" that you recognize
-- sometimes at the moment, but often in retrospect -- as being particularly
affective of the way you feel about your world. Sometimes your outlook is
skewed by discrete events: marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a
loved one, divorce, the sudden calamity of natural or economic misfortune.
Those are the kind of changes that are easy to pin down to one certain,
specific spot along the thread of your life. Other changes seem to have a more
subtle, uncertain origin.
It seems that the human mind, for all its touted and wondrous capacity, is
only big enough to contain one true concept of home at any given time.
It can be hard to recognize exactly when the single brain neuron that clutches
the home-idea releases its tenacious grip and passes its charge on to another.
And considering how many tendrils of association surround and protect that
particular cell, is it so hard to understand why it doesn't give up easily or
You can't choose the vista of your original idea of home, any more than
you can choose your birth parents. But, whether it was a tin-roofed shanty on
the side of a hill above Sao Paulo or an upscale split-level in a suburb of
San Francisco, the concept is the same: This was where I started. This
was where the full measure of my childhood nurturing took place. This was
where I ran when I was hurt or where I went when I had no other place to go.
This was my "base camp" for early expeditions of discovery. This was where I
learned about the idea of love -- to whatever extent it may have been taught me
by example there.
As I write this, I suddenly think of pictures I've seen of street urchins
sleeping in boxes in urban alleys, of orphaned children crammed like so much
untended livestock in little more than holding pens, of famine-stricken
infants in relief camps in underdeveloped, war-ravaged countries. Can a box,
or a holding pen, or a mud-soaked tent even be considered a home? Can
the notion of home be stretched so tautly in that dimension? I leave it
for others to ponder this -- and to ponder the ultimate karma of our own more
fortunate souls, tarnished as they are with the mute burden of those images…
Home is where the heart is. I apologize for not knowing or crediting
this saying's original author -- was it Bret Hart? Robert Service? I'll
wager that he or she is likely not getting any royalties from the thousands of
needlepoint copies made of it! (But why would you reward someone for making
such a vague, ill-defined and painfully sappy statement in the first
place?) From what I can see, family and friends most often define the
geography of that particular locale. My parents moved twice when I was a
child, and home -- my true sense of it -- moved with them in seamless
fashion. I moved away from that home when I was 17 years old. I lived in a
dormitory during my college years, but spent many weekends at home. I
got married, moved hundreds of miles from home, and lived in an
apartment for a couple of years -- but I still did not consider that my
home. I got divorced, had a quietly self-contained mental breakdown, and
lost myself in the opposite hemisphere of the earth for a long, strange
half-year -- and ultimately ended up at my childhood home again to
finish getting my life back together. I remarried, restarted my career, moved
into a new house - again, those same hundreds of miles from home -- and
I still did not initially consider that house as truly my home. But an
internal transition began to take place during this time.
It was sort of like those optical-illusion images you see, with two completely
separate and distinct aspects that suddenly flip back and forth as you stare
at the picture. You simply cannot see both images at once; it is either suddenly one,
or suddenly the other. That is how it was for me with home. On my inner
map, the geographical centers of nurturing, love, safety and physical &
psychological succor began to settle more often in the here and now, than in
the there and then -- and with their displacement, so too the inner location
of home itself moved. It was not an instantaneous event. But the shift
was inexorable and inevitable. The change had taken fully half a lifetime to
gestate and manifest itself.
As Thomas Wolfe said: You can't go home again. To think otherwise is to
confuse temporary nostalgia with concrete feeling. You may suspend your adult
consciousness for a time and lose yourself in the physical structure of your
previous home, with your loving parents who may still live there -- though it
is now truly and merely a house, with you, a curiously solid ghost-child
wandering through it, pretending to relive happy memories of old toy boxes and
once-colorful wallpaper. But the toys are long gone, and the wallpaper is now
yellowed and peeling. Awaken, and come back to your true, real home!
After my parents retired, they moved from the house I once called home to a
rather sterile, ground-level garden apartment unit in a large rental
development. With this move, my figment of home wasn't there to move
with them. And when they died a few years later, I did not lose, along with
them, a home. I had finally managed to make one of my own.