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The Idea of Home

“There’s No Place Like Home,” the closing line from the celebrated 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, now resonates in the face of a pandemic, as we’re urged to heed the wise counsel of our nation’s health specialists. For many, self-isolation at home will be a personal challenge. It is a tribulation for all of us, as we acclimate to a new norm, an altered sustenance.

Staying at home, practicing social distancing, utilizing safe practices – all essential for keeping the virus in check, keeping us healthy. With all the virtual communication tools available, the thought of extended isolation loses its sting. And, using that home time wisely is an antidote for frayed nerves.

Circulating through social media is this maxim:

And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And the people began to think differently. And the people healed. And when the danger passed, the people joined together again. They grieved their losses and made new choices.

Likewise, contemplating the “idea of home” comes into play in this dire time. It’s the appeal of a safe haven, one offering comfort and security when the outside world threatens. As writer Gillian Darley stated, a home “can assume powers of protection against the forces that besiege it.” A home’s interior in all its senses can project that feeling of stability and routine – a fireplace centered around a favored gathering place, sweet aromas emanating from the kitchen, a picture wall encapsulating a family’s story.

This idea of home ascends above the entity of a physical structure and its belongings. Home is an assemblage of time, place, memory, mystery. It evokes deep affection - and hardened truths. Our childhood home is perhaps the most influential in our life journey, yet it is often remembered through an idealized and tempered lens cast in sentimental light. In her essay, also titled “The Idea of Home,” Kristina Olsson wrote of the home she knew as a child: “Though it is forty years since I left it, and though I’ve lived in twenty places since and travelled far, and though the house is now gone, and the yard much changed, its length and breadth are still, for me, the precise measure of home.” She ponders how a place that exists only in her memory can hold and ground her more than anything else that came after.

Perhaps we re-create our childhood and the home we knew through a haze of time and lapsed memory, in our never-ending need for love and safety and belonging. Thus, childhood and our sense of home become a romanticized narrative, evoking a longing for our original home, whatever that may be for us. A home that felt safe during a time in our lives, upon reflection, when things appeared less complicated, less uncertain. It may have not been our factual reality, but it often becomes our reality with a forgiving dose of time and insight.

In a memorable episode of the long-running television series The Waltons (“The Achievement,” 1977, Season 5, Episode 25), the oldest son leaves the family home in rural Virginia to start a new life as a writer in New York City. His grandfather bestows on him his guidance, “Well, don’t forget your way home, son.” He replies back, “I never will.” In the son’s reflection at program’s end, he states, “I did leave home to live and work in New York City. I wrote more novels and raised a family of my own. Today, we live in California. But, no matter where I am, the call of a night bird, the rumble of a train crossing a trestle, the scent of crab apples can call me home again.”

That vein of resonant memory can ground us as we settle into a new way of life. It can ease us through our anxieties, our fears. Both the idea, and the reality, of home reassure us that, eventually, our planet will be restored to health. We will be well again.

Contact Rich at richmskgn@gmail.com

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