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Where is home and how do we get there?

Like one million others last year, my daughter who lives in Pennsylvania had been without heat and power for three or more days. It’s no joke with a seven month baby.

Unable to locate a hotel room, her small family moved in with an aunt and uncle, taking over their daughter’s room. My daughter felt badly putting cousin Catharine out of her bed so they moved on, seeking another place to stay. Fortunately their wonderful babysitter offered refuge to not only my daughter’s family but also to their pets.

As disruption continued on, my girl wrote,” I had a sad realization last night that I don’t know where home is anymore—our house didn’t feel like it. Home in Toronto isn’t the same anymore…I just felt so lonely and sad—despite the fact that there are so many people who have reached out to care for us…”

This put me in mind of a question that focuses the writer’s, J.M. Coetzee’s work,

Where is home? And how do you get there?

I responded to my daughter that home is not a place, but a feeling where one knows security and love, yet I am aware that is only partly true for a house houses the minutiae that are associated with memories of who we are, where we have been and where we might go. It is a tangible extension of ourselves. And for me, connotes Jean-Paul Sartre’s thoughts on why we are unable to toss the old toys and items we grew up with when we were mere tots: having a relationship with those items provides a snapshot of ourselves- that we have a particular history- at a variety of stages in our own lives.

When I look around my own living room, I see the numerous photos that line the walls: of children and grandchildren at various points in their lives. I see objects such as a beaded horse brought back from Botswana; and the painting of purple and orange rocks and three blown pine trees that Howard commissioned for my 60th birthday. My eyes linger on us in wet suits just before we plunged into the waters of The Great Barrier Reef. I notice a smiling group of my children as young adults, smartly dressed with me at the center. I reflect on the pink walls of that room that were thought so bold but, so beautiful, and I recall that the seemingly impossible hotness of colour cured down.

I focus on our little grey nook in the kitchen with the huge uncovered windows where I sit and paint and write. My son-in-law admonishes me to cover them because we roast in the summer. I give a nod to the tiny red leatherette nook in my first childhood home when I was a curly headed child on Glengarry and imagine that the two nooks are linked to positive feelings of food and family.

I note the brown carpeted steps that connect up and downstairs in our home where children and grandchildren bounced off their bums before cautiously learning to navigate the small drops and eventually proclaim “I did it.” To our applause, of course.

A place becomes imbued with so much. And being removed from it is hard.

There is that famous question: if you had to leave your house immediately, what would you take with you? This was the fate of so many people during the holocaust. And what would YOU grab in your panic, your head spinning? Likely you might frantically locate something warm like a sweater or a coat; maybe money with which to barter, and for sure, a ring or photos of your loved ones. Book after book reminds us of the worn images tucked into a tattered shoe or secreted in a body fold that enabled a survivor to make it through dark passages and hopeless days.

Homes for writers, perhaps are a means to discover a sense of where their characters fit, where they can slump comfortably and rest and cease from their journeys or quests. The outward appearance and colours of a bedroom might suggest the inner sanctum or perpetual turmoil of their protagonists. A context substantiates clues of personality badly obfuscated.

The expression by Thomas Wolf, you can never go home again, is apt because everything changes. Although we might wish for the constants of a mother’s loving cuddle or joyous whoop of a dog as we enter through a door, these are only bits savoured and pasted into our hearts, fragments from a time before, that we may have idealized and cemented into our mind’s record book. The notion of home cannot be recaptured- only in memory can “home” remain fixed, and, thus, fantastical.

Yet, the thoughts and familiar objects we associate with home likely persist as signposts to feelings of acceptance and love, or ones we associate with belonging.

Today as I edit and rewrite this, the newspaper recounts stories of Nepal’s shattered lives due to earthquake and World Vision implores us to help; and Baltimore’s unrest shouts of unfathomable destruction and unrest in secure harbours where people can no longer return, meager habitations dashed where once they fragilely ensured respites from the day’s pains.

In our deepest and darkest of hearts, we carry the first nomads with us, the hunters and gatherers who searched for protection and safety from the elements, and our being homeless enjoins us with our primordial ancestors who knew the bitter cold, the need for fire and friendship to survive. We are terrified to encounter face to face our restless roots, fearing a return to that state of peril.

More than that, for us, there is a baby unsettled by missing the rituals of a morning schedule and his cosy crib and Dano, the massive dog, licking the baby’s chubby limbs. Yet with his mother, my daughter and his father, he must intuit the security that he is cherished, protected, held and loved in the most of unstable circumstances.

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