The Elusive Notion of Home

As far as idioms go, ‘home is where the heart is’ can definitely be seen as one of the more literal ones. No one is beating around any bushes here, you pretty much get what you paid for with this phrase. However, it has always struck me as having two different, although connected, interpretations, depending on whether you focus on home or heart. Am I being told that home is wherever the heart will be? Or that my heart will always reside at home? I envision a hunt for the supposed true spatial placement of the terms. But which is the static one, and which gives chase?

I doubt that many have spent as much time pondering the syntax and meaning of fairly simple idioms as I have, but then again, I have somewhat personal stakes in this outcome. The placement of my ‘home’ has always been a point of contention between me and, well, myself. Growing up as a fairly cookie-cutter example of what they call a third culture kid, my speculation on what home meant began at a continentaI level. The Netherlands was where I lived between the ages four to twelve, but the United States was where I was born, where my extended family lived, where we visited every other summer, and where my mother longed to return to. So I already had two countries to call home, and starting the age of seven I also gained two houses, living part time between my newly divorced parents. Home, then, in the sense of ‘oops I left my P.E. clothes at home’ when I didn’t want to play dodgeball, and ‘I can’t wait to go home’ after a long day of learning sums at primary school, depended on the time of month it was rather than what ‘home’ really meant: every other weekend home meant one house rather than the other. Can we infer, then, that my heart simply bounced around with me between houses, fit snugly between my arm and my favorite stuffed animal? Or did I have but one home, firmly situated with wherever my heart truly belonged? Any child of divorced parents knows your heart can’t be said to ‘belong’ in one house over another, so this brings me no closer to a solution.

My home became even better at evading me in my later years, when I decided puberty wasn’t complicated enough, and spent every year in a different country. My mother had moved to Washington DC, where she said her heart lay, and I accompanied her until I began unceremoniously flip flopping between DC and the Netherlands two times before graduating. Between all the moving, and no matter which house I called home, I was homesick. Homesickness is meant to be a longing one feels for home when they are absent from it, yet regardless of where I was, I was never rid of the feeling. Even at Christmas time, the one time a year where my mom and all my siblings are in one place, homesickness follows me, as going there meant leaving behind my father and friends. If your heart is split between places, a partner and friends in one country, and a family in about four others, then going home and leaving home become unlikely and unwilling synonyms. However, Christmas is still my favorite time of year, perhaps because of the family and home-based connotations it holds, as if this will clear up my questions surrounding home, giving me a perfect snow globe, holding a cozy house with a family inside, the fire casting a glow at the windows. Yet I’ve felt like the snow globe of my own life has been too thoroughly shaken up, the plastic glitter flakes covering up the ceramic house inside until I could no longer discern the shape of my home, and the warmth inside.

Now, living in or around Amsterdam for the past six years, the snowflakes continue to swirl. In terms of my immediate family, I am alone: my mother, father, and each of my sisters live in different countries, and I am no closer to answering my poultry-esque question: what came first, the home or the heart? When I first lived on my own, starting university, I often felt silly about my lingering homesickness: at this point everyone lives away from their family, it’s normal, so why was I still sad? It felt unfair to me that I couldn’t simply visit my mom for a game of cards, or go shopping with my sister. Recently, however, many have held these feelings for the first time, unable to arbitrarily see a parent, friend or sibling, and feeling the true 21st century malaise of your iPhone perhaps being the closest thing to home you have, for that’s where FaceTime lives. In a deeply sad way, this has helped me feel less confused. Others have begun understanding the elusive nature of the concept plaguing me, and this has helped me feel a little less crazy for obsessing over it. I’ve stopped holding my confusion so tight to my chest, and have unfolded my arms somewhat to share in the community bonding of sadness these times have brought. With the cramped little bundle of disoriented feelings I’ve held for so long has also untangled slightly, and I dare say my perspective has shifted, too.

I have begun to see that, perhaps, my issue with ‘home is where the heart is’ lies in the fact that both my interpretations of it, either home following heart or heart following home, both imply pursuit. There is a never ending incompleteness implied in a pursuit: one always chasing the other without finding it. Yes, okay, fine. It might be that I’ve overcomplicated an otherwise truly uninspired idiom. But it has helped me comprehend my insecurities surrounding the notion of home and shown me a way forward. I think I need to not allow my life to be framed by an absence of home, this chase between heart to home or home to heart. I think I should start trying to be my own home, trying to see that I’m not lacking, I’m gaining. Sure my home may not be in one place, but whose is nowadays? I’ve begun to let go of this binary black and white home: my home can flex and move and take whatever shape it needs to, wherever I am. I’ve stopped shaking my freaking snow globe so damned hard, and the snowflakes have begun to settle. I’ve begun to realise that, when the last plastic dot comes to rest, I don’t have to see a place, or a feeling, I just have to see myself, heart full of my various homes, smiling. No more, no less. 


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