Monday, June 29, 2015

The meaning of home


Where the mountains come down to the sea along the Wild Atlantic Way


Home is a question I've been contemplating my entire life. So on this day, my birthday, I will begin to try to answer that question. I published a post recently about having found home along the wild Atlantic way in Ireland. Today, I want to explore the meaning of home and ask a new question: how did I know it when I found it?


Is home the landscape that burns itself into your psyche?

When you ask people what 'home' means to them, you'll get a variety of different answers. Some of them are dependant on culture, others on circumstance. Home to many is the place you live. For some it's where you came from. For others it's where they are heading to. For some it is the house they grew up in. For others it is the house they built.

For me a house never equates with the concept of home. A house can be an empty place. Home is warm and inviting. The place you feel safe and content. The place you want to be. I have been searching for home for a lifetime.

Recently, friends told us they had found new jobs in Scotland and were leaving Ireland. Their jobs were not satisfying any more and so they made the decision to move on. But their hearts are heavy because, despite being from Scotland, they had come to feel that Ireland is 'home.' One said, "I don't know what it is about this place, but there's something about it that feels like home."

Can home be on the road again?
Ireland is such an interesting place because it's greatest export is its people. There are more people of Irish descent all over the world than there ever were in Ireland. The diaspora of Ireland in the states and around the world was thrown into a state of global mourning last week when six young people died in Berkeley CA in a freak accident. People interviewed all over the world talked about their ties to Ireland. No matter how far away they go, this is still home. Home is a very powerful concept that binds these people together the world over for generations. They are proud of who they are and believe the people are their greatest asset. So these six young people represented a loss for the future of the nation, not just for their families and friends.

People are not defined by what they do in Ireland. They are defined by their connections to the land and its people. Home to the Irish then is a unique combination of the land and its people. No matter where you move to, you will never be from there. And so in Ireland, where you are from (within Ireland) defines your beginning. "God made the land, but I made the field," a line from the movie The Field defines that connection to the land.

Craic is the joy of a shared connection to the people. 
Who you know, on the other hand, defines who you've become - it completes you. There are no degrees of separation in Ireland. Everyone knows someone who knows someone you know.  The uniquely Irish term "craic" explains the joy that comes from the connections to the people. In fact, getting to understand who you are is like a national sport.

Why are the Irish people so engaging, friendly, and interested in other people, where they come from and where they are going? I think it's because they understand what it means to belong to a group of people who are connected to one another.

I was born in Philadelphia PA to Ukrainian immigrants, the celebration child for refugees from war torn Europe after WWII.  I spent my entire life living and working between PA, NY and NJ. I also spent my entire life feeling like I did not belong and was always searching for 'home'. I travelled the entire coast - east and west - of the US in search for home. I finally settled on Maine, where the mountains come down to the sea, when I met Alex. He convinced me to try Ireland where the "weather is better". I did and I fell in love. Of course, Ireland is the mirror image of Maine, but that's just part of the story.
Is home the land you tend and
shape with your hands?

Home to immigrants is a much more complex answer. Is home the place you go to or come from?  I have found that it depends on the circumstances under which you left most often. People who choose to leave for better opportunities and find them will often call home the place they landed. People who are forced to leave a place they loved will perhaps never adopt their new land and never forsake the beloved land they left. My parents were like that. They were 'unwilling immigrants'. Growing up in America, I didn't learn English until I went to school. I was raised Ukrainian in America.  Is that why I felt displaced?

I heard a statistic yesterday that more people are migrating today than at any other time in the earth's history. About 60 million are estimated to have left their 'homes' for a variety of reasons. War, hatred, climate change, disastrous catastrophic events, lack of opportunity and other reasons are forcing people to leave their homes in search of a new home in record numbers. What will this mean for generations of displaced persons?

The Irish call home the place they were born. It calls to them to come back. My parents and many like them called Ukraine home, but they never made it back.

Is home simply the abode you live in or
is it a means by which to live the life you choose?  
But is it about land?  Native Americans didn't own their land. They had a home on the plains but were at home in the universe.

Sailors move their home from time to time; so is home the vessel that takes them wherever they choose to drop anchor?  What about sailors who just keep sailing without stopping? Is home the open ocean?  Do they ever think about going home or are they home at sea? I knew circumnavigators who were afraid to go 'home' because everything would have changed in the 17 years they were gone.

And what about military families and diplomats who are stationed wherever they are needed at the drop of a hat?  Eventually they get repatriated but do their children grow up yearning for home? I've talked to a few who really didn't have a clue where they belonged...where home was. They seemed disoriented, but professed to be comfortable almost anywhere.

When we went sailing, I had to have a home base to come back to. Despite the fact that I didn't feel at home anywhere, I needed a place to call home whether it was or not. We chose Ireland, a place I knew on the basis of two weeks of holidays per year in the best of years for 20 years. But I did feel a pull and I knew Alex was absolutely shattered whenever we left. For him, there was no question. Ireland, and specifically Clew Bay, was home. And there is no question that he thinks Irish.

Having moved here at the age of 50 after a very successful career in America, at first I felt displaced leaving America even though I never felt comfortable there. After all, I knew how to negotiate America quite well. I found everything in Ireland frustrating because I didn't understand the nature of life and the culture. Yet the mountains that come down to the sea kept beckoning to me. Slowly and surely I started to understand, accept and be accepted. The first time an elderly gentleman took my hand and looked deep into my eyes as though searching my soul, then smiled, all became clear.  He had looked into my soul and approved of what he saw there.  People do that here. It's disturbing at first. But comforting with time.
Or is home the people that make it so?

Today, when I leave Ireland I feel hollow, empty, and yearn to return 'home'. Ireland's wild Atlantic Way has worked its way under my skin. There is something about it here that calls to you hauntingly once you have been absorbed into its embrace. There is something here that is comforting and enveloping and welcoming. The more you experience the more addicted you become.

Today, I wait for those changes in light as it plays across the hills on a moody day. I relish the shower and run out during the sunny spell. I welcome my neighbours and walk with the donkeys. I write on the rainy days and pull weeds on the sunny ones.

And when we sail off, we always ask "Why did we ever leave?" when we return.

The one thing I can now never be is homeless.

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