Home is a small but mighty word.
Call me old-fashioned—or just old—but I have kept my American Heritage Dictionary, all 2,140 pages, on my bookshelf. It feels good to flip through the tissue-thin pages as I look up a word rather than ask Google’s fingers to do the walking. Either way, the noun ‘home’ has multiple definitions. My dictionary lists 11.
A place where one lives. The physical structure within which one lives. A dwelling place together with the family or social unit that occupies it. An environment offering security and happiness. The place, such as a country or town, where one was born or has lived for a long period. Native habitat. A source. A headquarters. Home plate. An institution where people are cared for. The starting position of the cursor on a computer screen.
During this peripatetic Fall, when a cabin up north, my sister and brother-in-law’s townhouse in Illinois, and soon my son and daughter-in-law’s Philadelphia row house have been a temporary landing place for me, I’ve fallen for the cliche. “Home is where the heart is,” the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder said some 2,000 years ago.
I’m not as attached to my house as I once thought. Or, having spent more time in mine during Covid has made any time away welcome.
In describing my wanderings the last few months, I’ve joked that I’ve been homeless, but that’s not funny or right. I’ve always had a roof overhead and a warm bed to sleep in each night. I’ve never missed a meal or experienced discomfort.
If anything, I’ve felt more connected—to the world, family, nature, and myself. No matter my location, I’ve continued my volunteer work related to immigration issues, feeling an even greater commitment to those who are forced to leave their home and seek a new one. I’ve been blessed to have more time with my sister and brother-in-law, my children and grandchildren. While up north, each day I spent as many hours as possible outdoors, taking in the spectacular colors, the Paul Bunyan trail, area parks, and the ever-changing lake.
I also felt the absolute freedom of being alone, something our busy lives don’t often afford and our world doesn’t often condone. While the pandemic has caused isolation and loneliness for many, I’ve also found joy in my own company. The 5 weeks I was at the cabin was the longest stretch I’d been by myself. No friends to walk or bike with. No meals to share. I wasn’t sure how I’d do.
Perhaps because I’m used to living alone, I was fine. And when I missed a person’s voice, I called. When I needed to feel “home,” there was always someone with whom I could connect.
I wrote more. I read more. I hiked amidst the aspen and oaks, pines and maples. I did very little cooking. I stared at the lake for hours.
The Saturday before I left I caught a large bass from a kayak while the loons provided the soundtrack. The day I drove back to St. Paul from visiting my sister, she texted me that she missed me and that I was always welcome there.
Once home, I appreciate even more the fact that my daughter and her family are staying with me. So what if there’s more laundry and dirty dishes (okay, a LOT more). So what if the quietest hour for reading is 5 to 6 a.m.? As much as home is a physical space, it’s also a place in the heart where all that matters belongs.