What is a home and how do I find one?

Dear Liz,

They say home is where the heart is. But I don’t know where my heart is…

My life has been one of inconsistency. I am 21 years old and already I have lived in 15 different “homes” (houses). That number doesn’t include the two separate places where both of my parents currently reside while I attend school (also not counted) on the opposite side of the country. I see them for a few weeks every 6 months, the case for the last 3 years. If I define a place I’ve lived as a place where I have a permanent bed I can call my own, the number is nearly 20. Almost one for every year that I have walked this earth. This doesn’t bother me, except the inconvenience of travel (I’ve had to drive cross-country about 4 times now, once by myself which was fun). I like to be independent.  Soon I will be faced with a strange predicament where I could choose Oregon, Nevada or New Hampshire as my state of residence. This is not where my struggle lies, though.

Small talk with peers always includes my least favorite question: So where are you from? Sometimes I say California, sometimes New Hampshire, other times I just say it’s complicated and that I’m from nowhere and everywhere. I have discovered a very interesting form of homelessness. While I am not living on the streets, I feel as though I have no real home. There isno place where I feel comfortable, so I have learned to feel content everywhere. One time, when my parents were still married, we lived in a house that was supposed to be it. The one. Custom built on a hill in the woods right next-door to my dad’s brother. We stayed for 5 years before my parents split. Now some other family lives in our house. They have no idea how lucky they are. I almost feel robbed of it, like it was supposed to be my home but now it’s theirs… But I have learned in a serious way to be free of attachment so it really doesn’t bother me.

I said I have learned to feel content everywhere. The thing is that I am very tired of this contentedness. I feel as though this constant moving about might be starting to affect my life in a negative way. For now I reside in my off campus house which I rent for a fair price. And I am content with this. I do fear that my constant moving and contentedness with frequent drastic change will cause me to find difficulty in “settling down” as an adult. The thought of having a family of my own, living in some place we call “home”, just seems so foreign to me. Something I realized while briefly reviewing what I have written thus far is that this “contentedness” might not be real. Perhaps more likely it is denial. or even more likely, I think, I just don’t know what it’s like to have a home and I simply don’t know what I’m missing.

So… What is a “home,” and how do I find one? Is it important to have one?  – A.B.

Dear AB,

I actually hurt in my heart as I read your question, because I understand your hunger more than is comfortable for me to admit.  To have a home is more than important—it’s a primal need, and when we do not have our primal needs met, we lose so much.  As I read your words, I actually felt what you came to at the end of your question:  this contentedness might not be real…I just don’t know what it’s like to have a home…

I know what it is not to have a home, and I know what it is to have found one, and I will try to be as open as my comfort allows, so I can help.

When we have no home, we’re untethered.  The truth is, we’re meant to be tethered to the individuals who initially “invited us in,” whether through conception or adoption.  We’re meant to be tethered not only to them as individuals, but to the intimacy that drew them together to begin with.  The child is meant to untether himself from the parent’s union, not the other way around.  If we are forced to untether prematurely (abandonment, divorce, neglect…) we fracture internally, and move into the world looking for something we can’t even name—thus is the high cost of losing something primal.  All we know is that we are a little different, looking in, and probably sad deep within.

Home is absolutely where our heart is.  A house is a house.  A home is housed.  Home is where you let your breath out—home is comfortable and safe.  Home is where we share our days with connected, reliable, beings.  Homes are unspoken spaces of trust.  Home has your back.  Home is pleasantly consistent, even if consistent with its ups and downs.  Most of all, home is permanent—it may change its contours and appearance and even location, the exterior may wear and the structure might have contained any number of heartaches and disputes—but in the end, the  very essence of home remains constant over time.  In that way, home is like any other love…any other true, committed love.

A child’s first home will always be his/her parent(s).

Ideally our home involves a permanent dwelling, but it doesn’t need to.  Just recently our bathroom was under renovation, and my family of four was holed up in a hotel room for four nights, and as we settled in to our take-out meal, a feeling of contentment rose up in me, joy if you will, and in that moment it clicked for me—where those three are, my husband, my son and my daughter, I am home.  They are my home.  When we got back into our house, it felt great, and I immediately said, it’s so good to be home, but the truth is, I could live in a cardboard box with those three, and I’d be home.

Yet home does imply a dwelling, which in all likelihood means we make a mark on that dwelling, however small and personal.  In that way, our house reflects the spirit of those who dwell in it.  This is simple and precious and it is what all human beings long for.

Sometimes home and house are built at the same time—or one may invite the other—or they come together overtime, like in your situation.  You wrote:  One time, when my parents were still married, we lived in a house that was supposed to be it. The one. Custom built on a hill in the woods right next-door to my dad’s brother. We stayed for 5 years before my parents split. Now some other family lives in our house. They have no idea how lucky they are. I almost feel robbed of it, like it was supposed to be my home but now it’s theirs…

It was supposed to be your home, and you lost it when your parents divorced.  You lost your house, too.  The precious gift you held while in that home for five years is what home is…the people, the stability, the predictability, the love, even if an imperfect love, the constancy of the people and the address provided you with what you needed.  It was yours, and it was all taken from you.

When your parents divorced and the house was sold, they broke your heart.  It’s as simple and painful as that.  The number of homes you need to juggle now is really nothing more than a repeated reminder of all you’ve lost—you have your broken heart in your hands and you’re going door to door, literally, and at the end of the stay, your hands are still full of the pieces that can’t seem to be unified.

The work is now yours.  You will have to begin to put those pieces back together.  You may also buy a couch, a table, a plant…and eventually, you will invite someone in.  That’s when you will begin to move in the direction of home.  You expressed some concern that you might not be able to settle down as an adult, but I don’t think that will be the case.  In fact, I think you’ll be great at it.  The challenge will not rest in the settling down, but in your ability to move out your own way and invite real love in.

How do I do that?

Home is where the heart is, and the heart always longs for real love.  But real love doesn’t begin to reveal itself until we’ve committed to that love.  Here’s the tricky part:  when the commitments that preceded us, commitments that were meant to be taken for granted, like the marriage of our parents, or a stable home, blows up in our face, the idea of committing can be rather unsettling, if not completely foreign.  Perhaps we wonder if we have the skills to love and commit and create family and home, and fear will exploit that self-doubt.

Love also asks us to be intimate–without intimacy, we’re in friends-with-benefits territory.  But intimacy is so risky, because all that self-doubt and shame and fear that we have neatly tucked away, will be exposed, and if life has given us reasons not to feel safe when our heart is on the line, then the vulnerability that intimacy demands of us is quite threatening in the lead up.  In fact, it can be so uncomfortable that those of us “homeless” folks often perpetuate our very homelessness…

Don’t let that happen.

Healing your heart is going to be a matter of presenting it, in the fractured state it’s in.  That is hard, really hard. There have been times in my life when eternal solitude or dying held more appeal than pushing through my terror of vulnerability.  But when you encounter someone mature enough, deep enough, tender enough, someone you innately trust even when your head is tricking you into doubting their moves, you’ll take their hand, even as your throat is closing, and day by day your broken heart will heal from the steady care and friendship and passion you bring to each other.

The real work of love is building a foundation that will not give way.  It is the best of any work we can ever choose to do—the rewards are better than any bonus, any vacation, any re-modeled kitchen, any perfect body, any status, any success—but you already know this.  You lost what you want, and in that way, you are better positioned to go forth and create the most loving home imaginable, because you don’t take home for granted.

Let me leave you with this:  Sit like the Buddha in the center of your heart, and outstretch your arms to hold each piece that is floating in the midst.  Loving yourself is keeping your arms wide open—and it just so happens that loving another means keeping your arms wide open.  Don’t forget:  the greatest obstacle to love is fear, and fear latches on to our childhood wounds and trips us up in our adulthood.  It’s time to get really brave, and step away from fear.  This step away is a cliff dive, a collision, a poem, a melancholic afternoon, an October super hike, an erotic kiss, and a fishing line with too heavy a weight…and it will lead you home.

Love, Liz

One thought on “What is a home and how do I find one?

  1. I would just say that home never has to be a place. Your family does not have to be related to you. My family is made of people I have come to love in my life. My home? The most I have ever felt at home was living out of my VW. Home can where ever you can feel relaxed and accepted. There are several diners where I feel more at home than I ever did with the family I was born to. My advice is to relax, choose to be where you WANT to be, and to be have patience. One day you will find that somehow when you weren’t looking somehow someone and someplace will have become where you want to be when you are not and THAT will be home.


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