“Home is oneness, home is my original nature. It is right here, simply in what is. There is nowhere else I have to go, and nothing else I have to become.” Tony Parsons
Is home a place for you or an experience? What are the qualities you associate with home? How do the experiences you have in a place affect your concept of home?
I didn’t grow up in one place and know it intimately as people do when they’ve lived forever in a town. Not having experienced that, I can only fantasize about the security it must give one, a place where one truly belongs. But I’ve always been attracted to a wider field, to the infinite variety of cultures and perspectives of people who have risked and fallen over the edges where safety begins.
I’ve lived outside the box, often longing to want what is in it so that I would fit into the world around me more easily. But whenever I’ve crawled inside and tried to stay there, I’ve been discovered as a fraud and turned away, rejected as unsuited for that particular mold. Although it was painful at the time, I’m grateful for the circumstances that pushed me out into places where I learned things I would never have learned otherwise.
Cold Winters Develop Resilience
For example, living in Nebraska, I learned that many farmers (even those with mechanized farms) still planted by the phases of the moon although they never admitted it. These were the descendents of pioneers who had survived the harsh cold deprivation of every kind and the unrelenting winds that howled so high and long that some went mad trying to settle this unforgiving land.
After my first winter there, facing over 30 straight days below 0, locked in a land of ice, I developed a new respect for my neighbors. It took strength and perseverance just to walk across the street in winter. The joke was that if the wind stopped blowing everyone would fall down. But behind all that ice, I found plenty of warm hearts and prairie humor.
What We Resist May Persist
After my brother, his family and my parents all moved to New Orleans, I used to say I loved to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I wasn’t a party person, didn’t drink much, and ate healthy food; besides, it was sweltering all year round. But, despite my original protests, I moved there because I wanted to see my nephews and niece grow up. Seduced by New Orleans’ unique culture, I stayed for 12 years.
It was a love-hate relationship from the start, like trying to love a faithless man who, nevertheless, touches the romance in your soul and makes you laugh like Dionysus himself. How could any writer not be enchanted with the French Quarter, standing on St. Peter beneath the apartment where Tennessee Williams completed “Streetcar Named Desire” or wandering through the dark, ancient alleys that inspired Anne Rice’s vampires?
In New Orleans I learned that punctuality wasn’t always a virtue, Mama was always Queen, a little lagniappe adds spice to life, and how to play like I was going to die tomorrow.
Joy May Sometimes Hide Despair
I also learned about aching poverty, that some high school restrooms were so filthy kids cut class to run home and use a clean toilet, that school administrators had virtually no resources except hearts large enough to embrace the world. I taught a crack baby turned 14 who could never sit still and saw the price everyone pays for allowing there to be a large, poorly educated underclass. I taught kids whose fathers and brothers had been murdered and who mourned with despair when their favorite music teacher was gunned down. I learned about anger and compassion.
All People Are One
Then I went to West Africa, traveling with other teachers on a Fulbright-Hays Travel Abroad Grant to study the literature and culture. After flying all night, we landed with the sunrise in Dakar, Senegal on the edge of the Sahara Desert, and as I stepped onto the ground, I was overwhelmed with the feeling I was home in the deepest sense.
Of course, the food was similar to the gumbos and jambalaya of New Orleans—most slaves brought to New Orleans had come from there—and I could hear the beginnings of jazz in the syncopated rhythms of the drums. But, it was more than that and more than the fact that humans originated in Africa.
Living Close to Nature Makes Us One
In that land, people still lived close to nature, the way I had as a child, eating from a garden and talking to the spirits of trees. There, even Christians and Muslims integrated their traditional animistic spirituality into their daily lives. These were people who offered the tea of friendship before they asked why you were there, whose lives were vibrant with the celebrations of rituals that gave meaning to each passage in life.
What Feels Like Home May Be An Illusion
Years later when I moved from New Orleans to New Mexico, I felt I had found my soul’s home at last. Sunsets spread across the sky—hot pink turning to burgundy and orange melting into violet, indigo and deep space black. On New Year’s Day, cold and crisp, the air was filled with the songs of the Corn Dance at Santa Domingo Pueblo, where the whole community danced together in sacred harmony.
But despite my love for this natural world and the indigenous culture there, in the world of my people there was no harmony for me. Along with the beauty existed the reality of an earth blood-soaked with genocide, the energy of hate, and a need to protect lies. Trying to speak the truth in my life and about the students I taught, I lost my friends, my spiritual community and my work. The desert stripped me; my bones were burned bare by the sun.
Wholeness May Be Born From Pain
One night, in the midst of this pain and darkness, I dreamed that as I wandered through a new apartment, I found a darkened cave-like room with a high domed ceiling and rock floor. Turning on the light, there stood before me a towering ancient cathedral, a holy place at the center of my being. I learned I was finally whole.
I still sometimes envy those who live where their ancestors settled decades ago. But I know that if I had enjoyed such comfort all my life that security would have become a place for me to hide from the unknown. Instead I have learned that we are all One, and I have a freedom I never dreamed possible because—everywhere I go, I’m home.
What is home to you? Please Comment.
© 2006 Georganne Spruce ZQT4PQ5ZN7F5
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