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Thinking About Home

Returning home to visit North Carolina feeds my soul in important ways. Time spent with family is refreshing. Eating at restaurants unavailable in Hoosier land makes my taste buds dance. On this trip, it was the popcorn shrimp at Dry Dock that made my mouth water. The hushpuppies alone are worth the trip. And of course, driving through my old haunts to see how things have changed is always part of the itinerary. I wonder if the day will come when I no longer recognize any of it?

This trip lived up to the anticipation, but was a little unusual in one sense. Driving through the countryside where I was raised and seeing trees that have matured over the years had a mesmerizing effect. It was as though the area around Tom Stevens Road was a mythical path toward paradise. The early springtime foliage was beautiful against the blue sky. It felt like it was beckoning me to return.

On most occasions when I visit, the thought of moving back to the area flashes through my mind, but I quickly acknowledge that you can’t really go “home” again because it never matches the memory you’re chasing. Many of the people that once made it special are no longer there. Those that remain are busy with the lives they have built. An influx of people has added cars to the roads and stress on the water supply. And once I am there, what would I do with my time? Plus, I have a full and satisfying life where I am.

For whatever reason, on this occasion, the itch has lingered a little longer than usual.  Of course, it only takes a glimpse at one or two prices for homes in the area to realize this would be an expensive proposition. So, unless a windfall from heaven drops into my lap, chances are this itch won’t get scratched.

All of this prompted me to think about the concept of home. I have now lived away from North Carolina longer than I lived in it. Occasionally I wonder if, when people ask where I’m from, I should answer Indiana. Since I still prefer college basketball as played along Tobacco Road rather than taking sides in the Purdue/IU rivalry, I suspect the answer is “no.” However, a few acres in the rural, east central part of Indiana have become home to me. Driving into the woods toward our house is like entering a sanctuary. It felt like holy ground the first time we came to inspect the property when looking for a place to call our own. It is home for me in a way that no other place ever has been.

Yet, as we prepared for that recent visit to Chatham County, North Carolina, when my Hoosier friends asked where we were going on our trip, I heard myself say without hesitation, “I’m going home to visit family.” It feels a bit odd to think I am leaving home to return home.  But it doesn’t stop there.

When vacationing abroad in a strange land, after a day of activity I may well say to Judi, “I think I’m ready to go home, are you?” In those cases, I don’t mean return to Indiana or North Carolina. I am referring simply to our hotel room. It seems that home is wherever I intend to lay my head that night. Helen Rowland is probably close to truth when she says, “Home is any four walls that enclose the right person.”

Is home where you are from? Or is it where you live? Or is it simply where you will lay your head that night? From the number of pithy sayings written on the topic, I know I’m not the first to ponder this question.

  • “Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there.” — Aleksandar Hemon, Bosnian-American writer (My mother often makes a similar comment after I have left from a visit)
  • “Maybe that’s the best part of going away for a vacation — coming home again.” — Madeleine L’Engle, American author (As much as I enjoy travel, after about three weeks, I’m ready for my own bed!)
  • “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” — Robert Frost, American poet [1] (I don’t know if they have to, but I’m thankful they still do!)

Quips such as these hint at home’s important roles. Some combination of belonging, acceptance and refuge make it indispensable. Home is where you are comfortable. Home is where you are accepted and loved. (if you are fortunate). Home is where all your stuff is. (that and the rented storage locker you have down the road of things you haven’t used in a decade but keep just in case).

I can’t write this without the occasional grimace when I am reminded that not everyone had a happy home or currently finds comfort and refuge there. Whenever we are deprived of those things, it can only have a negative trickle-down effect on a person’s experiences and outlook.  I wonder how much of that is due to generational cycles that are too overbearing to break away from, and how many are self-created by one or more parties trying to occupy a space designed to be home? I wish I knew of an easy one-step solution for those occasions. No doubt it would be in high demand.

For better or worse, home shapes us. I don’t know if I’ll ever lose the farmer identity imprinted on me over the course of two decades at my first home, even though I have not been one for 40 years now unless you count vegetable gardening. Those rural roots and values still ground me. I’m pretty certain the home of my youth is why I prefer living in the open countryside with little traffic and few neighbors. I imagine nature and solitude will forever be important to me.

But the influence is reciprocal. We shape home, at least a bit, and in doing so give expression to ourselves. The house where I now live was perfectly acceptable when we purchased it. But we repainted. We added a door, deck, and hot tub off the master bedroom. With the help of my father-in-law we added a front patio (honestly, he did most of the work). We raised the ceiling in the living room and added a fireplace. Souvenirs from trips scattered around the house keep those experiences close to the surface of our minds. The list goes on.

Home is where we make memories. I know where I fell off the ladder while painting our house. I probably should have made a trip to the ER, but I didn’t want the paint to dry before I finished that section. I remember where we did a celebratory dance the day we paid off the mortgage. The swing that sits in front of the house has been the site of countless afternoon breaks from a list of chores. Most recently, a private party watched the total eclipse from our back deck. The only invited guests other than Judi and me were two pints of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Through those memories I re-experience love. I remember heartache. I smile at the accomplishments. Home is the playground where so much of who I have become happened.

Henning Mankell wrote, “You can have more than one home. You can carry your roots with you and decide where they grow.” Unless we are ones destined to spend our lives in the same house where we were born, that is an outlook worth adopting. We can be grateful for the positive influences of the home where we began. If you must leave it, continue to treasure it. Visit it. Relish the goodness it recalls. But don’t let its memory prevent you from letting your roots grow wherever you settle. It seems likely that home is much more than where we began life’s journey.


  • [1] (https://www.today.com/life/inspiration/quotes-about-home-rcna81557)

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