The concept of home is perhaps the most comforting of any we summon when we feel the need for safety and comfort and the nurturing presence of others we regard as family. In past American generations, home was a given: it was where you grew up then grew old. It was immutable. It was a place one could neither choose for or against; it just was. Seasons changed and generations passed, but home was home.
My grandparent’s generation were the last Americans to experience home as a static concept. The Greatest Generation who followed were the first to move beyond to introduce the idea that home was a place to be decided upon rather than inherited. World War II, and the rise of the United States as a superpower, both allowed and, at times, required the displacement of family members to form new homes and traditions at locations that were often great distances from the family homestead, as those sanctuaries of heritage were known. From the 1960s onward, the sanctity of permanence assured by family homesteads was diluted and dispersed and, no matter how hard we tried to reestablish new homesteads, it proved impossible to recreate the multi-sensory characteristics of what we had lost as we pursued the ambitions and tribulations of modern life.
As a boy, I never felt more at home than on my maternal grandparents windowed-in front porch in rural South Dakota where I would often nap after busy mornings tailing my grandfather. Tall elms shaded the yard while mourning doves cooed. Gophers scampered to and fro as the chase was always on. My grandfather gently rocked in his Stickley-styled chair while the livestock market prattled on his small AM band radio providing a hint of structure from a distant world. As I lay on the porch swing anchored to the slat-wood ceiling by chains above, the creak of the swing synched up with the rhythm of his chair as the warm alfalfa-scented breeze gently caressed my grandmother’s white lace curtains. We were both home; an unspoken generation-skipping bond I still cherish today and summon in my heart when I need the comfort of refuge.
Regrets? Yes, I have a few. I suspect I am not alone when I say I have struggled to establish that sense of home that seemed effortless to my grandparents. I regret embracing transience over permanence. My generation couldn’t be bothered with deep roots. The faster we moved the more successful and fulfilled we thought our lives would be. We failed (or at least I failed) to provide an enduring sense of home for my children. We built bigger and better houses, but seldom established homes. Today, the vast majority of Americans have residences, but no home. Of course, “homeless” is not how we describe them, yet that is what they are. Homeless is a term invented during my lifetime to describe those without shelter. People have suffered throughout history from lacking shelter and, as during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, were forced to leave their homestead, but the concept of home endured—it traveled. And, once the forces of displacement resolved, many returned to that same place to reclaim it as home. Today, most Americans have no idea where home is; in many cases because it never existed.
The lack of home in this traditional sense is seen by many as the inherent cost of progress. But, have we progressed? American society is falling apart. There is no dimension of its structure I can point to and claim, “Look there: stability!” Many point to the decline of religious faith as the source of instability. Others are threatened by people who don’t look like them and aim their blame there. Still others see technology—at once enabling and empowering—as the source of societal ills. The truth is (as always) partly here, partly there, and somewhere in between. I will suggest the disorientation and chaos we are experiencing today is due to the fact we are all like individual boats—captained alone—whose compasses can’t find home. We are subject to prevailing winds that push us about but not one vessel on the vast water of America has an anchor. No way to arrest our drift or pause to set a new course. No capacity to sit still. No way to find the safety and comfort and the nurturing presence of others we regard as family. No home.
I have a back-pocket thesis about cultures I have witnessed—like most villages in Italy—where generational homes still exist. Where home still happens. When I have been fortunate to observe these places, I am filled with that warm sense of permanence their citizens enjoy while also feeling that pang of lament for what I, and we as Americans, have lost. I fantasize about moving there and spending the rest of my life basking in the presence of home. I feel the same way in Ireland, which many generations ago was a place some of my ancestors called home. My thesis is that these are cultures that are well ahead of America. That’s right: not behind, ahead. They are cultures once cursed by the same pattern of success and downfall America is now experiencing. They too lost their sense of home through empire collapse, war, and famine. Then, they came home. And, stayed there. Yes, they go out into the world to achieve an expanded sense of awareness, but then they come home. Maybe there is a lesson in there for us.
On my own now, I feel an obligation to stay home—to stay put unless traveling to expand my own awareness or support my family that is dispersed from coast to coast. It’s my nod to the wisdom of the Italians and Irish. I chose the Colorado Rockies, or perhaps they chose me. It is my sanctuary from the madness of crowds; the disenchanted, angry, and too-often violent people who are destroying America. A cop-out? Maybe, but so be it. I have also learned, through deep contemplation, that establishing home at this stage of my life requires that I remain in the seat of Self in the traditions that regard consciousness as the essence of being. My pillow to sit on wherever I may (physically) be. In this conceptualization, home is where I am, wherever that may be at any particular time. Mystical? Damn right. It is imperfect—not my grandparent’s porch—but it works for me.
I will leave you today with my poem, “The Fading Light.”
My wake, once deep and frothy, recedes now—ripples to glass.
Wisdom swells in its place, washing the stains of life away.
Hands hardened by toil and conflict give way to a softer heart,
beating to the delicate rhythm of tranquility.
Alone with thoughts both grand and small,
mediated by memories of triumph and loss.
Cast as a voyeur now to the victories and defeats of others.
Eyes fixed on the tumbledown of humanity.
Will they find their way, or consume themselves?
Time knows but remains, for the moment, silent.
My mark fades now into the twilight of obscurity.
Just enough light to find my way out as the curtain falls.
Have a wonderful week ahead. Until my pen draws ink, again.