Holiday ads on tv showcase beautifully decorated homes and at least a subtle message that it’s good to be “home for the holidays.” Yet “home” does not equal safety for all of us, for those raised in chaos, or trauma. How do we make sense of “home,” whatever it meant, or now means to us?
Do you remember the house in which you grew up, if there was only one, if not, the houses? The rooms? The family, if there was one? The traditions, if there were any, that created home? Where, how and if you played? Your parents maybe at the dinner table? Any siblings? What is home? Where is home? Home is where the heart is? Really?
I have a friend who moved thirty-five times before he turned 50. At 75, he still struggles to feel “home” even after living in Portland for 30 years. In contrast, I lived in the same house from the age of ten until leaving for college. I know “home” is confusing and painful for some. I was lucky. I remember “home” warmly, the huge yard, the giant trampoline in the field between our house and the neighbors’. Cows grazed on the abutting land. My Dad built a treehouse from which we watched those cows. Pleasant memories.
As much as I loved the inside of that house with our avocado and harvest gold kitchen, holy water fonts on door jams, my white and red bedroom, the ping pong table in the basement, mostly I loved the outside. I loved watching Dad mow the field on his ride-on tractor, his ability to find quiet under the roar of the whirring motor.
Home to me offered the ground from which we ventured forth, to adventure. Yet, what about home to other people who feel separate from “happy-home-for-the-holidays.” What could home possibly mean in a bigger sense, a sense that might help all of us this time of year?
Some thoughts: Years ago, I’d visit an assisted living facility for those living with dementia. Often, they’d say, “I want to go home.”
I’d ask, “Where’s home?”
They’d talk about the home where they were born or spent their early years.
I’d ask, “What do you like about that home?”
They’d say something like, “It’s on a pretty hill.”
I’m told, when people near the end of life say the words, “I want to go home,” they sometimes mean their next after-earth home. So, I wondered there about that “pretty hill” as I listened. I wondered, then, if home is less a place and more a sense.
Contemplative teachers say that if we inhabit the present moment fully, wherever we are is called home. So, even as many of us did not experience home as a feeling of ground, a safe place to begin, a place to grow, perhaps we can learn that home, not as house but as feeling, dwells inside us. Maybe the body in this present moment is home. What if we say, “this is my body. This is where I live”? What if the feeling of home is an inside job?
Holiday ads, with things to buy, eat, drink, shop for, cook, celebrate, might invite us into exhaustion. If it’s true that we live here and now, in this body, could we take care of it, even in this “happy holiday” rush? If we do tend to this inside feeling of home, wouldn’t we always be home for the holidays? And if we don’t honor this body-as-home, where will our hearts reside? Where will we live?