I’m starting to see more articles and essays on home. Which is not surprising since most of us are at home more than ever these days. But in particular, there is a theme about how home is changing now that we are sheltered in place. Which makes me think it’s time I jump into the conversation and start at the beginning. Because honestly, my friends, home is not changing. We are.
First, what IS home?
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
“There’s no place like home.”
Come on, everyone knows what home is. Right? Even if what feels like home to me may be very different from what feels like home to you, we know home. Or we think we do. We at least know what home should be. Sure, it’s not “one size fits all,” but… We may struggle to define it, yet on some core level of our being, we are sure we understand the essence of it. We know it when we feel it.
More than a house, a landscape, or even a sense of belonging, home implies something else, something greater. It is somewhat intangible, almost spiritual, seemingly understood, yet difficult to define.
Home is an emotion, a state of being. It is a feeling of comfort and belonging, a sense of connectedness. Home is where the heart is. Home is love. Where our loved ones live.
Home is Mom. Our first home, quite literally. And even as we age, we go home to mom, wherever she lives.
Home is a structure, a shelter with a door, as well as a place: a town, a neighborhood, a locale. An apartment or flat. A bungalow or brownstone. In the city, the suburbs, or even the country. Maybe a backyard or a park. Alley ways and busy streets or dusty roads and wide-open spaces.
Home is tastes: favorite recipes we ate as a kid. Grandma’s jam and cinnamon rolls. Fried chicken and sweet iced tea. Lasagna and lemon knots or casseroles and kolachkis.
Home is scents: freshly cut hay or freshly mowed grass. Onions frying. A certain perfume or pipe smoke. The smell of a damp basement or a musty attic. The inside of an old pickup truck.
Home is sounds: crickets on a warm night, snow crunching on a cold day, or hearing your local dialect when you are hundreds of miles away. It is the honking of traffic on a busy street or the crunch of tires on a gravel road.
Home is ritual, shared in both our families and communities. Maybe Sunday morning coffee with the paper on the couch or Sunday morning church followed by brunch. Saturday afternoon ballgames or Saturday night movies with pizza and pajamas.
Home is laughter and play: the dwelling place of good memories. Silliness among those who know us best. Unabashed, unrestrained, spontaneous, and authentic.
Home is all this and more. The structure, place, tastes, scents, sounds, and rituals may vary but every home—when we really feel at home—shares similar things.
Home, in its purest form, is a haven of safety, sanctuary, and nurturance: a womb in the world. It is a sense of ease, happiness, connection and contentedness. Even when our actual experience of home is contrary, we yearn for this, for the sentiment of inherent intimacy and security.
Home has always been this. It hasn’t changed. We have. Many of us stopped paying attention. We’ve become distracted by jobs, bigger houses, and things. We’ve moved away or live alone and feel disconnected. Or we purchased big homes in good areas but never quite settled in. Or maybe we are happy, but still dream of something else. A different home.
An alchemical blend of instinct, memory, and familiarity, home is fundamental to our identity. It is, as Edward Relph writes, “the dwelling place of being” and “an irreplaceable centre of significance.” This hasn’t changed. We have. We’ve grown up. Life changed and we changed along with it.
One of the challenges is that most often we think of home in relationship to family. Only, family isn’t what it used to be. We grew up. Maybe our parents divorced. Maybe we divorced. Maybe our folks moved away from the old neighborhood. Maybe we moved away. Maybe our children moved.
So what happens when our parents die? When the place where we played as a kid no longer exists? Or when your children leave home and establish residence somewhere else, no longer returning regularly for special occasions or holidays? When divorce, death, or tragedy strikes? Maybe even a pandemic.
Each of us longs for home—desires the sense of feeling at home—and yet at some point many of us have felt estranged from it and don’t know where to find it. We live our lives, buoyed by events that carry us along, following cultural norms, possibly content yet sensing at moments the overwhelming sensation of being unmoored and disconnected. In response to this discomfort, we shut down or over-stimulate, gorging ourselves on comfort foods and memories. We bake bread. We hoard toilet paper. We accept what the culture—largely influenced by nostalgia, economics, and advertising—tells us home is and strive for that. We buy more things and bigger houses, we change jobs, move to “better” locations, and still don’t feel content, completely comfortable, or soulfully connected to place. We long for something more. We ache for security.
As I said in my post on Play, home is the realm of the child. As adults, we long for this. For the safety and security and simplicity of when we were kids. The sureness and dependability of it.
Which is why home is not only the place from where we start, where we quite literally began, it is also the state to which we long to return. Deeper than all rational or conscious thought is this longing: to be home, to feel at home.
I’ve given you hints here. In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you my theory. Because once we understand this, the true essence and function of home, we can begin to find it again, no matter how much we change. No matter how much the world changes. Even in a pandemic.
 Robert Frost, Death of a Hired Hand. 1914
 In the Wizard of Oz, the good witch Glinda tells Dorothy that finding her way back home is as easy as saying this phrase three times while clicking her heels. Dorothy follows her direction and wakes up in her bed back in Kansas, surrounded by her family and friends.
 Relph, Edward. Place and Placelessness. London: Pion Limited, 1976. Page 39