For sisters of all consider together.

Mediations and reflections, meanderings and meanings...

Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Homesickness

I am homesick.  I miss a place and how I remember myself being in that place.  I am pretty sure this is like a dream--a psychic crazy quilt comprised of scraps of weather and soil, the iris in the side yard and the wild rose in the woods out back, weavings of farmer's market meanderings and girlfriend coffees in shady spots of a walkable town.  It is a place--this home I am sick for--with a new and imperfectly realized but perfect enough vision of a town pathway full of art and walkers arcing
through where the train once divided the town. It exists in my homesickness--a vision of a long spring day populated with belovedly familiar people bouncing along town pathways like dappled balloons.  I am sad to be missing the literal and figurative flowering of this community space. I am glad not to be there as the highway wrecks the prettiest parts of the county--all to line some already deep pockets, and at the cost of our children's already laboring lungs. If I were actually still there I might be wearing the orange jumpsuit instead of my springtime leggings.

So it is nostalgia--a dangerous thing--that is perhaps the more accurate "thought," here.  I say nostalgia is dangerous because I suspect it is a culprit in the myriad and usually egregious reinterpretations of history.  The ones that conveniently forget the bones of genocides buried beneath the edifices of empire.  The ones that sentimentalize the period dress, never acknowledging those  rendered naked its making.

I may be harsh, here. Yet, homesickness for a home that is simply not home anymore has dogged me all of my life.  Belonging, home-ness is a thing worthy of consideration.  One of our roles as women transformed during the feminist work on words, from "housewife" to "homemaker."  The idea was pretty obvious:  We do not marry the house and we instead make homes of those houses.  Nicely done. 
The domestic and it's history has been explored in some 1,000 pages of detail in the "The Secret History of Domesticity."  This tome's exploration ranges across architecture to food to literature to social movements to examine how the life of the interior (the domestic) has communicated, commuted to and through the exterior (the public).  Women, of course, feature heavily in this examination.  Did I make a home?  Or did it make me?

I maintain that our geographies shape our psyches and psychologies.  Even more so, our architectures do and lastly, the physical bastions we love to fixate upon and avoid acknowledging nonetheless--our bodies, our bodies make our home.  My only home here on this planet, finally and ever, is my body.  Leaving notions of soul and spirit aside for the moment, my body is the only home from which I cannot be the final eviction we each and all face.  And as such, it bears understanding of how we make each other--the home of my body and the self that is made there.

If we can be mountain people, river folks, seafarers, we can also certainly be people of the little pink houses...and the flesh and chemical flowering that makes a body.  There has been much talk of late around obesity, gender, skin tone, "good hair" --bodies signify, but they also contain...and constrain.

I can be at home in my body....or not.  There are all sorts of ways my own body can become a wilderness to me--certainly illness alters its contours--pregnancy, birth, gaining or losing weight, injury and new many ways my body becomes a less preferred place to inhabit.  Did we invent our homes because of this?  Home is where the heart really is, right?  But what if the heart is trespassed or feels a stranger to us?

Recently a young woman told me a story of being sexually abused and misused from becoming a woman onward.  First in her family and then in her marriage.  She told me how she sleeps on the couch, even though she has a bed.  I asked if she was surprised that her bed would seem unsafe to her.  She said she tried to buy nice sheets and everything.  I could tell she could not think how else she could reclaim her bed as a place of rest.  It will take some time.

This happens to our bodies, too, when they are abused or misused.  They become less home, more estranged. And in that estrangement we discover that even inside ourselves...we wander. Wandering may well be our most familiar status. The writer and anthrolpologist-y wanderer, Bruce Chatwin, hypothesized that humans evolved through the majority of our 200,000 year existence on this 4.5 billion year old planet, as nomads, wanderers. The story of becoming who we are as a species now is a story of moving across the lands and waters of the planet. Settling, moving, moving and settling.  This is a fascinating mystery.  Are we nomads or are we settlers, at heart?

The heart--that metaphor for a core, a foundational, an original and ultimate "self"--is a confounding factor in this meditation.  When we speak of the heart determining our home, we are speaking of care--of love.  Who we love, how we love comprise our home in "home is where the heart is."  Love of the land is something worthy.  It can be argued that we have not quite figured out this one:  We veer toward a grasping greed around land --a claim of "mine" that begins the domino effect of wars, colonizations and nationalistic psychosis. We can veer toward a disconnect from land--"othering" it enough that we poison our own water (and therefore blood) streams, rend the protective cloak of ozone and weather, fracture the sedimentary layers that support our frames, pouring toxic slurry into our marrow.  Either one--too close or too far--from "home"--destroys us.

In my homesickness today, I wrote a friend that when we wander with our people we are nomads but when we wander alone, we are exiles.  It was a self-pitying moment. But there is some truth to that.  As humans, home is more than a dwelling place--it is a dwelling place that we care about and that likely cares about us.

Lao-tzu is the putative author of the Tao Te Ching that opens by saying "Those who speak, don't know and those who know, don't speak."  Already we are in unfamiliar territory. The story of Lao Tzu, while perhaps mostly fable, is very much a Taoist fable--it is as venerated a story as a verse of the Tao Te Ching itself.  Lao Tzu had been a court "insider," an important guy influencing decisions, acting as respected advisor with a teaching gig or two on the side (hey, this is sounding....).  He left one day to wander into the mountains, never to be seen again.  At the westernmost gate to the kingdom/city, the guard recognized him and asked him to write down his wisdom; thus the slender and confounding collection called the Tao Te Ching is delivered into the hands of a sentry named Yinxe.

As I wrestle with my home-sick-ness, I am Lao-tzu leaving what cannot be home anymore--a place that no longer works, is falling apart in some essential way.  I am also the sentry--recognizing this moment of leave-taking, asking for the last bit of wisdom before the "master" disappears into the wilderness.  And I am the teaching, as well, the ink on the page and page itself.  Something that contradicts the ideas that it holds--ideas that say there is no real holding of what really matters, that "thingness"--like paper and ink--are just the rising of "the ten thousand things." The ten thousand things--including place and notions like "home"--are just a distraction, a temporary scattershot. What matters is something that is like water--flowing and yielding and forever manifesting and then undoing. The Tao.   

My real homesickness is for a place I cannot remember, a place we find by wandering past the sentry into the wilderness. And the wilderness is inside.
Painting by Mark Beebe

Think of the many small things that mean home to you.  Breathe and sit quietly, seeing them in your mind's eye.  Are they plain?  Like a favorite coffee mug or an old blanket?  Some might be inherited--a mirror from your mother or a book from a great uncle.  When you see your home things what does home feel like?  Is it a happy place?  A place you belong?  Let that be true for this moment.  Dwell deeply there.  Breathe in, breathe out.

Now notice how that feeling expands.  The home feeling might be prompted by seeing and sensing but you breathe and dwell in your can feel the stuff of it fall away and notice.  You notice....what?  Without things, what is home?  Can you feel something there?  Can you let it be like a gentle breeze?  Something not visible but moving instead?  

Now let that feeling, that river of breeze, flow through you.  What if home is always moving?  What if it is both a deep rest and a forever float?  Feel yourself drift upon it like you do on a soft raft floating on a deep, slow summer river.  And breathe some more.

Where are your mountains?  Where is the sentry in you?

Finally feel how worry and sadness start to drift them drift like mist across mountains.  Feel how, as you forget the specifics of home, the real landing there--the being there--emerges into you right here and right now.  You can always come home.  To this, to this letting go and this floating upon the river.  This is home.  It is eddies in the shallows of life, all the doings and the things, and it has a deep, abiding current through you.  It travels wherever you do.  It returns you to rest and peace.  Your people are with you because they are in you.  You may wander but you are always home, loved ones murmuring within  you like wind in the trees and waves in the water and breath through your body.And now breathe.

And return to now--seeing gently and with a little bit of humor--the many things of here and now that seem like but might now really be home. 

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