Friday, September 23, 2011

Home Is Where the Mart Is

I don't know why exactly, but I've been thinking a lot recently about the idea of "home." Perhaps it's because I spent a good part of last month in a place I think of as "home" only to get on a plane and fly east for six hours in order to go "home". Or maybe because it's been a rainy and cool fall in New England that has already filled me with the sense of wanting to spend more time "at home." It might have to do with the fact that a while ago we read a book in my book club called "Home" which I LOVED and everyone else hated.* Perhaps it's because only rarely do I spend a day without interacting with folks we've labeled "home"-less but who nonetheless have places they stay and identify themselves as being residents in our city and I've been forced to wonder what exactly it is they are lacking that puts them in this category. **

Perhaps I missed the day of kindergarten on which they explained all this, but I've realized that I actually don't know exactly what homes means. At least not entirely. But I feel that I should, as home seems an incredibly important concept in our society, what with homework and homing pigeons and TJMaxx HomeGoods and home games and home plate and nursing homes and home schooling and the home office and being home free and the general consensus that things are better if they are homemade. This might seem incredibly naive, but how am I supposed to know where my home is? 

I wonder, is my home simply the place I live? In that case, if I've moved about 15 times in my life, does that mean that I've had 15 different, successive homes? Or is there something more enduring about home, a sense that some places we live are more "home" than others? Many of the "homeless" people I know return to the same place every night to sleep be they friends' houses or shelters or favorite (and seemingly proprietary) spots to sleep outdoors. Are those their homes?

Or is home the place where my family is? If so, what family? Is it where Mr. L and I are together? Or the place where our families of origin live? If it's both (or either really), then is one who lives far from one's family destined to a life of feeling "not at home"? If someone has no family, do we really say that that person has no home? Not likely.

Perhaps home is the place where I feel I belong or feel I would return to if I had a choice (is home, as the old adage goes, where your heart is?) Is it the place I identify myself as being "from" or that I generally identify the most with? Maybe, except that if these are true, then I don't know that I currently live "at home" as there are many days when I dream of being other places that would fulfill these things for me. Is it where we feel safe? Likely not, as my friends who teach in inner city schools will tell you, they send kinds "home" to places that aren't safe all the time.

Or maybe it is some combination of all of these things. Maybe it is where I live, and where Mr. L is and where I feel safe and where I belong and where my family is. Which means that sometimes it's many places and sometimes only one and maybe even nowhere at al. But this is all very abstract, you see.

For more concrete identification purposes, I've been cooking up a new adage: Home is where the mart is. Shopping mart, that is. You see, somehow, in a crazy way, I associate home not only with the place I live but also with how I feel when I'm there. It's the place I feel comfortable, stable, familiar, the place where I can drive to without thinking about where I'm going. Home is the place that I am when I feel comfortable at the supermarket, where I know just what aisle has the lemon soda that I love and which one has my favorite cans of black beans. Maybe that's how I know where my home is. Where is it for you?

*A regular occurrence.
**This very conundrum has led some service providers and homeless advocates to refer to their situation as "unhoused" meaning they lack permanent housing. 


  1. Um. All of the above? RUN HOME JACK!!
    Seriously, though: I think you are right about it being all of the things you mentioned, and I also think that we are sorta do carry our homes with us, in some ways (those of us that have the social capital and means to have a personal shelter on a regular basis, that is). I know that parts of different cities feel "home" to me, but I also know that there are parts of the Portland suburbs that feel really like "Home" to me, mostly because I know the weird sidestreets (similar to the grocery store). In other news: that "Home is wherever I'm with you" song always makes me cry, because I am a sap.

  2. I love this reflection! Mostly I love that it is more questions than answers; made me realize what a nebulous concept "home" is, though we often assume it's neat and concrete. Ironically, I came across this quote in my day planner today: "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in" (Robert Frost). Something about the idea of church as home is in those words for me - we all belong there, and we have to accept each other, widen and stretch to make room for all.