The quest for home is a pull that lives deep within us, beyond any attachment to a physical place.
Following my mother’s move into a cheery, small room in an assisted living unit, she started having moments of delusion. When I’d arrive at her room, she’d be waiting with the news: “I have to get ready. I’m going home tonight.” Wanting to understand her, I’d ask, “Where’s home, Mom? Is it your old apartment in independent living?” She’d shake her head “no.” Your house with Dad in Seattle? “No.” Our childhood home in Connecticut? Another shake. Your home with your parents? “No.”
Wondering if she might be in touch with a religious sense of home, I’d continue, “Are you going home to the Maker, Mom? Going home to God?” Again, she shook her head “no.”
She could never say where she was going. But she was yearning for something, and that led me to ask myself the question: Where do we find home?
Does home live in the crackle of a fireplace or the smell of hot chocolate? Is it in a dinner of roast turkey, or fried chicken and collard greens, dal with red chutney, or grilled kufta kebabs? Is it in children laughing, grandfather leading a prayer, a porch swing, or an open front door?
Does home live in our memories? Or, if you grew up in a house of violence or abuse, can it live in your hopes and longings, in what you hope to create for yourself or your children?
Home is more than a place. It’s a deep, primal yearning for safety, for familiarity, and for a feeling of being welcomed, appreciated, and loved for who we are. It lives in the past, in the future, and in our desires for today.
Home is about the feelings and qualities we long for, not just for a roof and walls. When I first went to summer camp, I had terrible homesickness and wanted to return to the familiar comfort of my family and house. But when I discovered the joys of swimming, crafts, and songs around the campfire, I began to feel at home with my new friends.
Home shows up in song lyrics as a theme second only to love. Sometimes it lives in a sweet, sad longing, as when Linda Ronstadt sang about wanting to leave her loneliness and find her way back home in Randy Newman’s Feels Like Home.
Sometimes home is described as the place, like heaven, where we can leave our earthly troubles and pains behind. Paul Robeson sang about it in William Arms Fisher’s Going Home, written in 1922:
“Goin’ home / Goin’ home / I’m a-goin’ home / Quiet like, some still day / I’m just goin’ home/ It’s not far / Just close by / Through an open door / Work all done, care laid by / Goin’ to fear no more.”
Even the more secular songwriter Leonard Cohen, a practicing Buddhist, wrote his version of “Going Home” in his 70s, just a few years before he died. He sang about returning to a better place, where he could shuck the burden of his identity and be free of “the costume that I wore.”
Whether or not we believe in the possibility of a sweet welcome on the other side of this life, home is a feeling we can cultivate now.
We can make our communities feel more homelike by forgoing our cars and discovering our neighborhoods anew by walking and talking with people. We can make our houses homey by shaping cozy or sacred spaces and creating rituals and special celebrations to fill our rooms with warmth, laughter, and conversation. We can discover our home in the natural world by walking slowly, allowing ourselves to feel the wonder of nature’s beauty.
Most importantly, we can find home within ourselves by cultivating stillness, calm, peace, and acceptance. Meditation, contemplation, and sitting are all techniques for this. Often, I’m too agitated to go directly into a silent meditation, so I put on a piece of evocative music, sit, and drop into my feelings. As my heart swells, I sense a deep longing for the eternal and discover a place in my core that wants nothing more than to give and receive love. This, for me, is home.
As we find our inner sense of home, we can spread out a welcome mat for others. In today’s world, too many people have been forced to flee their homelands because of war, poverty, and natural disasters. They yearn for home, especially because they know they may never be able to return to their lands. When we meet a refugee, immigrant, or stranger in our communities, why not reach out and find a way to say, “Welcome. We’re happy you’re here. You’re safe. You’re wanted. You’re home.”
Sally Fox, owner of Engaging Presence, is a coach and writer who helps individuals develop and craft compelling stories. She writes about following your creative calling after midlife. Find her blog at engagingpresence.com and listen to her podcasts at 3rdActMagazine.com.