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Where Is Home?

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 often?

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.

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Image at top is Van Gogh's White House


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