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When Home is Not Home

One of the most beautiful and evocative of all words is ‘home’. Folded within it are suggestions of safety, understanding, sympathy, warmth and belonging. It is to home that we turn in our minds in desolate moments, when self-doubt and fear threaten to overwhelm us, when enemies insult us and confidence ebbs. 

But, at points, to our dawning horror, we may be forced to take on board a hugely disorienting conclusion: despite our intense hopes, home may not in fact be home. We may have a building and a circle of people to which we are committed and where nominally we belong, but our particular ‘home’ may not for that matter live up to our yearning for respite and nurture, security and growth. Though this is where we lay our head every night, we are not especially understood here. Though this is where we have devoted so much of our time and emotional ambition, we do not find sufficient connection here. Though it breaks our heart to admit it, here we are not deeply or correctly loved.

Confusingly, even very imperfect homes can feel better than the wilderness and desolation beyond, which is why we often stay around far longer than we should. But it is, in the long term, impossible to still the insistent voice inside us, the voice that reminds us that time is short and that we are dying inside a little more each day that we remain. There may be nothing and no one waiting for us out there and yet we know that we have to step out in order to try to find certain kinds of emotional nourishment that we should rather die fighting for, than give up on.

Maybe we’re an adolescent and we realize that the family we were born into cannot respect who we’ve grown up to be. Or we’re in a group of friends that have ceased to see the world as we do. Or perhaps we are in a relationship and have slowly despaired that our partner will ever appreciate certain ideas that matter profoundly to us.

It shouldn’t surprise us that so many of us don’t fit our homes, we never consciously chose them. We inherited them or stumbled into them, we fell into them by accident when we were too young to understand ourselves and others – and lacked the inner steel to hold out for what we would actually have required. Now the challenge is to make a home in a more conscious way, to choose the values we want to prevail in our sanctum and the people with whom we’ll have a chance of genuine understanding.

We need a lot of courage to make ourselves voluntarily homeless, to say, I am on the road, not because there was nowhere I could stay, and no one who I could have been with, but because those places and those people that were available betrayed what should rightly belong to the word home. 

It’s notable how evocative certain images of traveler’s loneliness can feel, an isolated diner in a vast landscape, a forest in the gathering darkness, a motel room at the edge of town. What such images capture is the ambivalence of being out on the road, at once the loneliness of being without our familiar anchor and at the same time the promise that it is only via a journey that we will be able to find a better home than the one we left behind, that it is only by moving away that we will be able properly to arrive.

There are moments when we may need to keep moving until the place we live in is  at last able to actively honor what home should always have been.

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