Mark and I returned yesterday from six days in Paris. It is almost redundant to say that we had a great time; it is Paris, after all. We did encounter two glitches, however. First, the weather was crummy. This was not a surprise, as the weather is always crummy when we are in Paris. We’ve been there three times, and twice the weather has been cold and wet, and once it was the hottest week to date in the City of Lights. Second, our Airbnb apartment was sufficiently unsuitable that we spent a grand total of one night there. Problems abounded, but the worst was the “wooden steps” to the loft bed – read, rickety ladder, pictured here. We’re fairly flexible travelers, but we were not willing to call this home for several days and therefore decamped to a hotel. Happily, the hotel was super, and we enjoyed our stay there.
What constitutes home, permanent or temporary, is actually a subject that has been under discussion at our abode lately. We’re extremely fortunate to have an apartment here in Torrevieja and a small house outside of Austin, Texas. Both places are familiar and comfortable, cozy and fun. But are we at home in Spain, or is home always going to be in the US? When talking about our return to the US in about a month, we often speak of “when we go home.” But the apartment in Torrevieja feels like home, too, with its comfy nooks and glorious balcony. Can you have two places that are home, or is it in the nature of home to be one, unique place?
It’s worth noting that I’m being more literal than usual here and identifying home as a physical place. If I were going the poetical/spiritual route, Wordsworth would have answered my question in “Ode on Intimations of Immortality” – “…trailing clouds of glory do we come/From God, who is our home.” Or I could turn to the Bible verses so often read at weddings and identify home as anywhere my dear spouse is. “For whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge….” Ruth 1:16, King James Version. One problem with that formulation, of course, is that Ruth is talking to her mother-in-law and not to her husband, who is at this point in the story lodging in a grave. Or I could opt for some weird amalgam of quantum mechanics and Jacques Derrida and declare that you can’t really know much of anything anyway, so please pass the wine and the quarkscrew.
The question of where home is has arisen before, of course. I felt very settled in my various dorm rooms and apartments while I was in college and law school at the University of Texas, so they felt like home. But somehow the house I grew up in seemed to have the most claim to the title, and it also annoyed my parents no end when I referred to Austin as home. Maybe it frightened more than annoyed them, because this reference reinforced the reality that the last kid was growing up and creating an independent life outside of the family. Having raised two kids, I understand.
But even though families change and the location of home may get a bit dicey, I think there’s something deep in people that wants to have a place to call home. I first realized this in the third grade, when my lovely teacher, Mrs. Gibson, read our class a book entitled “Home Is a Very Special Place.” Contrary to what you may be thinking, I didn’t find the book inspiring and touching. If I’d known the word insipid at age 9, I would have thought it that. So I totally zoned out instead of listening. Which was fine until Mrs. G finished the book, closed it with a snap, and declared that now we were supposed to write our reaction to “Home Is a Very Special Place.” If I’d known the words holy shit at age 9, that’s what I would have been thinking. How can you have a reaction to something you completely ignored? I needed a plan, fast. What did I know about homes? People tend to like them. So I decided I’d write about my love for my own home and gloss over my total ignorance of what was in the book. I did manage to add a reference to it in the last sentence of my little essay, which was, I still remember, “Home is indeed a very special place.” (I did know the word indeed when I was 9.) Mrs. Gibson gave me an A+ and put the stupid thing on the bulletin board. So that day I learned something about home and about how little our teachers knew what we were actually learning.
Of course I was probably a late bloomer in my realization about the place of home in our lives. We’re told this early and often. Parents sing to their babies about homes. Remember this one? “To market, to market to buy a fat pig/Home again, home again, jiggety jig/To market, to market to buy a fat hog/Home again, home again, jiggety jog.” Later, the Three Little Pigs struggle valiantly to defend home and hearth against the Big Bad Wolf, and Snow White finds a home with the Seven Dwarves and, later, the slightly necrophiliac Prince. We sing camp songs about Homes on the Range (which really puzzled me, because I thought that a range was a stove). References to home pepper our childhoods.
So where does all of this leave me and my question of where home is – Torrevieja, Austin, none or all of the above? Maybe the answer is that home is the place that feels special, so just for today it is Torrevieja, and in a month and change it will be Austin. This is not an earth-shattering conclusion, but the process of musing about the centrality of home in our lives has made me mindful once again of my incredible privilege in having multiple options. How many millions of people in the world have no home, or terrible homes, or have had to flee their homes to save their lives? Just like in Mrs. Gibson’s class, I’ve been ignoring what’s going on around me and focusing inward. So the next time Mark and I talk about home, I’ll try to recall the more serious issues around that word. And maybe if I’m mindful, my eyes might open to ways to help others find their homes, too.