the meaning of home

I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of “home” lately, particularly since we don’t yet know what our future home will be or where. Part of this was prompted by a recent trip to my birth-state of Connecticut, which I always thought would be home—till I got married to a New Jerseyan. And then, I had the chance to discuss it with one of my students from Japan—who is himself far, far from home and struggling to make a temporary one here—when one of our textbooks had a short passage on “the meaning of home.” It, however, gave us only three options: Home can be a sanctuary or haven; a gathering place for friends and family;  or a ‘pit stop’—a place to eat and sleep only. We both agreed that the ideal home was probably a combination of the first two, and most definitely should not simply be the last. I would add a fourth function: Home can be a creative, a creating space, where you can let your imagination take hold and just make (or write) things.

When you go to sell your house, the realtor often tells you to “stage” it, remove family photographs, collections, clutter, slap neutral paint over those colors you love, and get rid of any weird, idiosyncratic stuff you have lying around that would say something—either good or bad—about your personalities. This is allegedly to help the future buyer imagine themselves in your space; but when I look at these spaces online, they seem sterile and bland, and I cannot imagine myself in any of them. So unhappily, as sellers, we will probably give in and do the staging bit; but as a buyer, I’m not falling for it. Perhaps it’s better to not to focus on specific details of a house, but on what you might actually do there, and if the house can accommodate that. In other words, don’t make yourself fit into the house, make the house fit you. Then it’s really a home.

However…there is something to be said for the “pit stop.” An option we are considering is taking a ‘gap year’ off from being homeowners—like the way some high school seniors take a year off before starting college. The idea is to rent a small, inexpensive apartment somewhere we’re thinking of moving to but want to explore more; maybe get in some serious travel before we have another house to worry about, perhaps even some volunteering gig somewhere. It’s probably the most impractical option out there, and yet—from a spiritual and emotional view, maybe the best. We’re at that age where unhappy surprises—mostly health-related—are just lurking around the corner.  Why wait to travel if our joints are still relatively loose and pain-free now? Tomorrow could be a whole different story. Carpe diem, as we used to say in Latin class. But it’s a whole year without a real home—can we handle that? Maybe not. Then again, it gives us a full year to really look for that special place. We’ll keep you posted…

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