Most of us invest a lot in the idea of home. Even if we don’t think about it, home claims us. It is the place where some of the most intense experiences and feelings occurred.
At its best, “There’s no place like home.” At its worst, there is no place as destructive. I’ll address both sides, in order.
Home is a place of firsts: the first place we lived, the first day of school; our first friends, first love, first victories and failures.
One of my earliest and best memories comes from a time before my brothers were born and therefore, from my first five years. My folks and I were traveling from a “drive-in” movie (a place where you watched movies from your car, parked in a giant lot in front of an enormous movie screen).
I was small enough to lie across the back seat of the car (no seat belts then). Sleepy after a long day of play, I half listened to my parents’ conversation. The rhythm of the car and the sense of safety that comes from the childhood illusion of parental omnipotence and perfect benevolence made me feel as good as I probably ever have. And, of course, we were going to the refuge we called home.
If you think about it, there are probably nearly as many songs about home as about love. And stories too.
Remember Homer’s Odyssey? Odysseus is side tracked on his return from the Trojan War. Over a period of 10 years he escapes the Cyclops, the Sirens, and all manner of trial and nemesis to get back to Ithaca, his kingdom. There, his wife Penelope waits for him, fending off the advances of suitors who want her (and Odysseus’s estate) for their own. His son, Telemachus, also waits for his father’s arrival. When Odysseus does reach Ithaca, he must do battle with the suitors and succeeds in defeating them with the help of his son.
Isn’t that what we all want? People who remember us and will always be there for us? People who have unending faith in us? People who love us and still exist, even with the passage of great spans of time, in a place called home?
If you don’t fancy the classics, think of The Wizard of Oz. Its pretty much the same story, with a young woman, Dorothy, as the heroine. Swept away from home by forces out of her control, she searches for allies who can help her in finding the “Wizard of Oz,” who reportedly has the capacity to transport her to Kansas. And, like Odysseus’s various nemeses, she encounters an evil witch who makes her life miserable. Dorothy must survive many trials to get back where she belongs.
Most of us, properly motivated, might write an autobiography of our quest in search of something worthwhile and the hurdles we overcame to reach a happy ending. The average life can have a heroic quality.
In the end, Dorothy finds herself on the family farm in Kansas, where Aunt Em, Uncle Henry, and the people who love her reside. And, of course, the movie ends with her words, “There’s no place like home.”
When we are comfortable, we often say we “feel at home.” In baseball, our goal is to score more runs than the opposition. And how do we do this? By crossing “home plate” more often than they do. If we do it at one blow, its called a home run. Sports teams routinely play better on their home field, supported by their loyal fans, stand-ins for family. And a part of our heart breaks when the stadiums of our youth are torn down, replaced by different “modernized” venues.
We go to “homecoming” at high schools and colleges, and to class reunions to see the old friendly faces who attach to us by the memory of home. Of course, these places age, but still we care about them.
Home is a place most people idealize. Parents are rarely as good as we retrospectively imagine them. The “good old days” tend to get better with age and distance.
Unfortunately, the home (and the family therein residing), can become a concept that is (like politics) “the last refuge of scoundrels.” In corrupt families the idea of loyalty is placed above morality and decency. One member of the home “covers” for the other’s hateful, abusive, or illegal actions. In such situations, the authority of parents, in particular, will trump any possibility of fairness.
Denial reigns in this group of blood and bloodied relations. Pity the individual who sees things as they are. He is usually treated as an outcast.
Home and family have such a claim on us that we do not always see the dark side. Family members who are cruel or dishonest hold to the illusion of a loving group for fear of being exposed. Equally, however, the other members, usually children, are comforted by the illusion to the point of moral blindness. Nor do they wish to put themselves in the line of fire by looking behind the curtain. Unlike the Land of Oz, the person unmasked is not as benign as “The Wizard.”
The loyalty, love, and attachment automatically attributed to “family” are special only to the extent that there is some approximation of the fantasy to the reality of the particular environment in which you live or to which you return.
When not the case, home is worse than a den of thieves.
Harold Pinter’s play, The Homecoming, lifts the veil on such a place.
Watch if you dare.
The photo above is called Celestial Tide by Kurt Nordstrom, sourced from Wikimedia Commons.