Perhaps due to my weariness and being disoriented from two days of travel, it was hard for me to comprehend how that brief encounter had the effect of providing me with a feeling of connection, belonging, and feeling welcome. It led me to think about the importance of having that sense of home as a necessary condition for security and feeling safe in one’s surroundings. Feeling secure and safe is particularly important to those who have been displaced by family breakups, job changes, educational and career pursuits, and retirement, as well as natural disasters. There are many in our communities who have been displaced for one reason or another. Expatriates (those who have moved to another country) talk about a sense of belonging nowhere; of never really becoming accepted as a local in their adopted country, yet returning “home” to find out they don’t fit in there anymore either.
It has been said that “home is where the heart is,” yet I believe that the heart can be “at home” in more than one place as long as there is a feeling of connection and belonging. So the important thing is to focus on how we can create that sense of home no matter where we are. As one person describes it while writing from her parents’ home, “They have lived here since the 1970s, and I have spent at least part of the holiday season between these four walls every year of my life. The house has gone through a number of changes over the decades, but ‘home for the holidays’ has always brought me to the exact same location.” So much of what we think of as “home” is fixed to a spot on the map. It’s where the old mailbox sits at the end of the driveway, the basement remains crowded with old sports equipment, and the local swimming hole beckons.
Yet for many, home is located in a shifting geography and changing landscape and people need to adjust and create a new home. One parent put it this way, “Transitioning to new schools is tough especially if you move somewhere small where all the kids have known each other since preschool. But kids are resilient and get through it.” So how is this done? How do we transport “home” in the emotional sense to a new location?
One way to do so is to transport those articles that are reminders of what home is. It may be family pictures on the wall, a blanket quilted by a beloved grandmother, the kids’ drawings on the refrigerator, the phone list tacked to the bulletin board that has landlines and cell phones for all of our friends and family, adorned with food stains, drawings, scribbles, and handwritten updates. Memories and family connections can be all around us. No matter where or how often someone moves, the house can be filled with the same comforting reminders. John Steinbeck once wrote, “I have lost all sense of home, having moved about so much. It means to me now--only that place where the books are kept.” For someone else home may be “where the cats are.”
Another way to establish a sense of home is to transport rituals to facilitate a feeling of continuity and stability. Establishing routines such as going to the library or a playground on Saturday mornings or finding new places to explore can establish connection to your new location. If you are ever in need of a flavor of local community just sit in a local coffee shop for a while and you will be almost guaranteed to connect after a few visits.
Let’s face it, all communities are always changing and evolving, even the ones we’ve lived in all our lives; the key is to find a way to connect to the people, places, activities, and the support that is available by taking part in the local culture. As I write this I am now able to comprehend how that simple yet profound “Ciao, Dario” could have had such a powerful effect on me. Home really is all about familiarity, belonging, affirmation, security, and connection.
Where we love is home - home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Editor’s note: Dario Lussardi is a licensed psychologist-master, providing consultation at the Community Counseling Center in Wilmington, where he maintains a private practice providing therapeutic services to adults, couples, children, adolescents, and families.