I just spent two weeks away from my flat.
The first week I was up North with my family, celebrating Christmas. It was a lovely time of game playing, food eating, walk and photo taking, book reading and as much sleep as we could fit in. It was also a week where I felt rotten, switching immediately from work to holiday mode usually gives me the lurgy, and this time was no different. As lovely as this trip was, I was glad to be home again, in a place where I’m familiar.
Two days later, after some fun celebrating a family turning 100, and weather-related flight delays, I was in another place that I call home. This time I was taking 8 days in New Jersey to celebrate one of my favourite humans turn another year older, and also to join in with a big group of friends as we celebrated the marriage of a couple of precious humans.
Going back to South Jersey is always a bittersweet experience, and this time was no exception. On the whole, everyone is healthy, happy and well. There are always a few who are not, but they’re working towards the light. It’s trips like this that make me consider anew what it means to be ‘home’.
The dictionary has a range of definitions, centring around the idea that home is
1- One’s place of residence
2- the social unit formed by a family living together.
So, home is either a place or your people- living together. There’s a narrowness to these definitions that is both helpful (when we can describe what we do and do not experience) and exclusive (when we are bounded only by these definitions without space to stretch).
Though I no longer live with any of my family, my home is in one way defined by them. In the decade since I moved out, my idea of family has taken on a certain fluidity too. My definition has expanded to include the friends with whom I am doing life.
If my home is my place of residence, then it is a place of shelter, a safe haven. As I was leaving New Jersey in 2014, when I moved back to Scotland, one of my friends quoted Emily Dickinson to me: ‘I felt it shelter to speak to you’. When we talk of shelter, generally we’re talking in the physical. When we get the chance to discuss this in the metaphorical, we expand our hearts. If I experience ‘home’ just as the four walls in which I reside then I might be very stingy indeed with how I allow others to experience it. I am enriched, however, when I open up my life to others at the same time as opening my doors. When you’re living with people, you know their mess, you know how it feels to fight, you know how to pull them out of their black, blue or orange moods. Emily Dickinson, I think has the right of it here- our words become shelter; the first invitation to home. That invitation allows us to know and be known. It’s in that exchange that we become family to one another.
I am forever blessed and heartbroken to call multiple places home. I hope that’s true for many of us, and that we can continue to open doors and hearts to one another, in the midst of the not-perfect, the messed up, the broken. My prayer is that we continue to do that, when it’s hard and doesn’t seem worthwhile, when it might cost us something extra, when it feels like going too many extra miles.
May we be people of shelter, who bring each other home.