Yesterday I returned home, from home. Contradiction? Perhaps not. Ireland is my home now, then again, so is the place where my children live. Sometimes that is the Philadelphia suburb where they were reared, sometimes New Orleans where two of them go to school. In March, it was Sedona, Arizona where I joined my good friends, their children and grandson as they gathered for a family visit – regrouping in the Arizona mountains now that everyone has settled far afield of “home” in Pennsylvania.
Home. It conjures images of holidays spent with family and friends, safe places, warmth and familiar comfort. Idealised images. Hardly the stuff of everyone’s experience. Yet we are, as a culture, obsessed with it. We outfit and decorate our nests with the care of young brides planning “their day” for years. We obsess about making the best choices. We choose houses and neighbourhoods for school districts, sometimes long before children are born. We make largely emotional decisions about the most significant investment of our lives. It is little wonder that we hold fast to the illusion of the “ideal” and deny what is often the “real”.
The purpose of this visit was to empty my house and sort through the “stuff” accumulated in the last three decades. I’d lived in this house a dozen years – having retreated to it as a sanctuary when my marriage ended. And a sanctuary it was. I’d “feathered it” with the “stuff” of my girls’ childhoods, a playschool “Hello Kitty” house, and the hand knitted sweaters given to my oldest and worn by her sisters after her. Photos and scrapbooks – and unfiled photos and scrapbook material. Kindergarten report cards and every manner of report through high school and beyond; notes to and from teachers, untried recipes ripped from magazines and my own grad school papers and transcripts. When I suggested my children go through the piles and take what they liked, there was little that appealed to them. Though for the most part they delighted in teasing me for having squirreled it all away….
I was home, comforted by their rolling eyes and their giggles, their delight and frustrations with each other, and with me. I was at home in the same familiar way I was in a Sedona market shopping for dinner as my friends and I had done over many years on other holidays with our merged clans. In the same way that I was at home when my dog greeted me at the door of my house in an Irish village – 3000 miles away from, well, home.
So in addition to Joseph’s Campbell’s wisdom, I will add Geneen Roth’s. The author of Women, Food & God reflects on what happens when you separate yourself from your story. I paraphrase here – but her message is that you are not your story; it is merely a familiar version of yourself. You without your story will come to prefer simplicity over complication, freedom over familiarity. You without a voice rehashing that version of you to yourself will begin to embrace that you are worth your own time, you will believe that longed for possibilities are out there. That you deserve a life without a “story”.
I’d already come to that conclusion (but still lose sight of it from time to time) when I made this home for myself in Ireland.
Having embraced that wisdom again, I am happy. I am finally home. Home after a lifetime of longing for the childhood home lost to me at nine; after inventing and reinventing facsimiles of it; after telling myself I was homeless once and would likely be again. By letting go of that story, I finally know that I carry with me the only sense of home I will ever need.
Apparently it was waiting for me to own it, all along.