Monday, January 03, 2011

Longing for Home

Home. What does that word bring to mind, first? A place of origin. An ultimate destination. And those places in between but especially when you were a child or raised children where you feel or felt you belonged and which in some sense belonged to you.

That's what Fredrick Buechner says in his book The Longing for Home. "I suspect that those who as children never had such a place in actuality had instead some kind of dream of such a home, which for them played an equally crucial part."

Few of us have the same home from beginning to end. We stretch the boundaries of the word when, like me, we go "home" for Christmas to different houses in different cities to an ever-shifting group of people - grandparents gone, and maybe parents; family members divorced, remarried, bringing in someone new. Maybe, at least in some setting, you the newcomer - hoping to be accepted and to feel that you belong in this place or with these people. Is this home? Is this family?

And even those we know more or less from the beginning of life until its end are apt to change into something unfamiliar, as we ourselves change.

Ideas like home and family may become something of a polite fiction - words we use to describe things that are too complicated for such short syllables.

In all his peripatetic childhood, the one house that of all others felt like home to Buechner was his grandparents' large, clapboard house in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Something about the place - and especially about his grandmother, who more than anyone else "inhabited" the house - suggested timelessness and permanence, beauty, serenity and love.

I love Buechner's essays. He captures and is honest about nostalgia and longing in a way that helps me accept both the ways life satisfies and the ways it doesn't. That you cannot go "back home" but it's okay that you still wish you could, that something in you needs this.
"All of this makes me wonder about the home that my wife and I created for ourselves and our three daughters, both of us coming from the homes of our childhood and consciously or unconsciously drawing on those memories as we went about making a new home for the family we were becoming."

"It was the little world we created to be as safe as we knew how to make it for ourselves and for our children from the great world outside which I more than my wife was afraid of especially for our children's sake because I remembered so vividly the dark and dangerous times of my own childhood, which were very much part of me still and continue to be.

"In that Vermont house I found refuge from the dark, as I always had, mainly in books, which, unlike people, can always be depended upon to tell the same stories in the same way and are always there when you need them and can always be set aside when you need them no longer.

"What my wife brought to the home we were creating was entirely different. The chief delight of her childhood in New Jersey had been not indoor things, as with me, but outdoor things. She had loved horses and animals of all kinds and growing things in gardens and almost by nature knew as much about trees and birds and flowers as most people have to learn from books and then struggle to remember.
"She planted a fifty-by-hundred-foot vegetable garden and flowers all over the place. She saw to it that each of our children had not only horses to ride but other animals to love and take care of - for Sharmy, Aracana chickens, who laid eggs of three different colors; for Dinah, a pig who grew to the size of a large refrigerator and didn't suffer fools gladly; and for Katherine, some fawn-colored Toggenberg goats who skittered around the barnyard dropping their berries and gazing out at the hills through the inscrutable slits of their eyes."

"...Like everybody else, what we furnished our home with was ourselves."
>> Think about what makes a place feel like home for you. Where or with whom do you feel that sense of belonging and that the place or people belong to you? Where or how do you find or try to create what Buechner calls "refuge from the dark"? Are the strategies different for others in your family?


Megan Noel said...

i think home is more than a place.
i felt that way with you and the family at christmas, but we did not grow up in that house and that house is not especially important to me.
i felt that way having a meal out with old friends twice over the holidays and i did have only known them half my life.
i felt that way visiting vashon over the holidays even though i did not go to center and visited people who moved on the island around when we left.
sometimes i feel that way when reading a really good book.

when have you felt that way recently?

Marti said...

Certainly more than a place - definitely also a feeling. I thought Buechner's word "belonging" nailed it: you feel like you belong there.

I think the stronger feelings come from the negative - when home is taken from us, when we expect to feel at home and don't, when others are happy and homey and we are not. Sometimes I feel least at home in times/places/groups where others feel most at home, because it brings my sense of being displaced into sharper contrast.

For years my office was home-y. Even on the way home from the airport after being out of town, I'd want to stop by the office - ostensibly to check for mail and messages, but really to get a few minutes at "home." I loved being there on weekends or after hours. It was hard moving out partly because so much of my life had been there, even if it wasn't anymore.

I admit, I feel at home in airports!

Definitely as you say, when reading a good book, favorite author. Home is a Madeleine L'Engle novel! I often feel at home in the Bible. Certain kinds of music may do it, too.