What does “home” mean to you? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. For the past year, it’s been a theme that I’ve explored in my writing. The protagonist struggles with this question in my latest novel.
Then, as the migrant crisis overseas intensified, I was caught up in thinking about how those countless numbers of people had everything in their lives decimated. I was shocked by how they had to flee with basically nothing. I imagined, with a heavy heart, the definition of “home,” for them, will be complex and painful.
Now, for the past week, the tragedy in Fort McMurray raised the question in my mind again. Again, the circumstances are far from typical and I don’t mean to compare them to the relatively normal life explored here.
Like everything else these days, it’s easy to find a definition on, you guessed it… Google. After perusing several dictionaries, this seemed to sum up all of the meanings in the most basic way:
“The place (such as a house or apartment) where a person lives”
“A family living together in one building, house, etc.”
“A place where something normally or naturally lives or is located” Source: Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary
All of the terminology leaned towards defining home as a structure or space that one inhabited.
But, is that what it means to you? I didn’t think so. Not to me, either.
Here’s how my thinking unfolded. This is my story and how my definition shifted. Does it compare to yours in some way, assuming we are of the same over-sixty or over-seventy cohort? I hope you will share your story in the comments.
My family moved five times, while I was in public and high school. My father was in the mining business.
I was eight years old, in 1953, when we made our first move, leaving our large extended family in northern Ontario. They had been settled there for generations. My grandfather was a prospector and my grandmother was the town librarian. There were aunts, uncles and cousins. Of course, everyone knew your name. Our life there had certainly defined home, for me.
With each move, there was a transition to new surroundings. I had to deal with a new community, being the new kid at school and understanding new cultures. We would establish a new home and then leave it.
But, always, there were my loving parents and my older brother. They were the constant. I began to understand I was home wherever they were.
I’ve always felt that going through all those moves gave me the spirit of adventure to travel around Europe with friends in 1967.
I was 21 years old. It was the “summer of love” for our generation. Although that term came to define the thousands of hippies who flocked to San Francisco, it was more than that.
Foreign travel was embraced by young people with the advent of cheap air fares and for me and my friends it meant miniskirts, the Beatles and Carnaby Street in London. It was Eurail passes, backpacking and experiencing sights beyond our imagination.
We were away from home and clearly, at that time, when I was frequently asked, home meant Canada to me. My parents had gone to Africa for two years and my brother was teaching in Germany.
A year later, completely smitten with travel but with an empty bank account, I returned to Toronto. A job, marriage and two children and soon a log house in the middle of a forest a half-hour from Toronto, all combined to create home for me. Travel continued to be an annual pleasure, but, we always contentedly returned to our home.
After widowhood, remarriage and a move that involved blending families, home and family were redefined.
There are people who live their entire lives in one place, raising their families, growing older and never moving. One part of me loves the idea of this kind of stability. The other tells me that I shouldn’t have any regrets.
For some of my friends, the empty nest syndrome was a difficult transition.
Fast forward. My children are now adults with their own lives, houses and children. The joys of grandchildren have been discovered. Now, we are retired.
The house became the condo after a dramatic downsizing. We visit our children’s homes, see some vestiges of our past become part of their homes and feel welcome. We’re happy to see how home is evolving for them too.
We travel. We enjoy and share our love for Europe, our chosen annual destination. Wherever we go, we settle for weeks, if not months, through exchanges.
We choose to live like locals. We have no chattels with us. We bring no remnants of what might be perceived as home. Yet, we feel at home.
Here’s what we have come to realize. We have each other. We have our memories and the connections in our heart to family and friends. That is home to us. This is true wherever we are and this pleases us immensely. It gives us a sense of peace and freedom.
We hope we can always be home. It doesn’t mean where we are from. It means where we are.
This sense of greater connection can also be found without a partner. This was made clear to me in my writing research by several wonderful single people.
In this case, the adage “home is where the heart is,” rings true.
Or, to quote Emily Dickinson, “Where thou art, that is home.”
My wish is that those displaced from what they once perceived as home, either by man’s inhumanity or by a natural catastrophe, will be successful in arriving home in their heart.
I am giving away a print copy or an ebook (winner’s choice) of The Promise of Provence to one lucky person. Just leave a comment under this article and let me know what “home” means to you. The winner will be randomly selected on May 20, 2016. Bonne chance! Good luck!
What does “home” mean to you? Have you lived in the same place for most of your life? Or have you been more of a nomad? Do you believe your home is wherever your heart is? Please join the conversation.
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