What is it? Where is it?


The image of this nest evokes the notion of home. At a family gathering where Jennifer, my daughter, referred to her “home” at the dinner table, I questioned whether she meant her home with us, her parents, or her home nearly two hours away with her husband and son. I asked her, “What do you think of, when you think of home?” Her response sparked fascinating insights and discussion around the table.

So, what do you think of, when you think of home? Is it the people? The physical structure? The circumstances? All of these? Around our table, one of the responses was, “I’m reminded of my college years, I was really happy where I lived.”

What for you is the experience of being at home or feeling “at home?” When I was working on projects that involved frequent trips to both coasts, I felt so at home with the people I was working with they became friends as well as colleagues. That happened because of shared interests and goals, also resonance. But curiously, I didn’t decide to move close to them. Also curious, when I visited Palenque, a Maya site in Chiapas, Mexico, I felt so comfortable sitting on the steps of a temple there, I felt at home, like I could have stayed there the rest of my life.

When were you most at home? I expected those around the table to cite their present dwelling place. Not so. It took me several moments to even discover the answer for myself—that where I live now is home. It’s where I feel most myself. If one’s current dwelling place is not necessarily home, is there anything or anyone who could turn it into one? I think most of us would agree that “a house does not a home make.” And what about people who have multiple homes? Are they equally “at home” in all of them or just one? And what about “homeless” people? If they retain a memory of home, do the long for what they had, or a perceived ideal? 

What qualities and characteristics are essential for you to consider a place home? Location? Type of dwelling? For instance, could you consider yourself at home in a condo or apartment? If so, what would be necessary to take with you? Considering your current dwelling place, what could you eliminate and still feel that it’s your home? With only the essentials remaining, what do they provide? Mine include computers, books, family photos and photography equipment. Without those, I wouldn’t feel at home. They are the tools that provide me the opportunity to better explore, understand and express myself in order to grow and contribute. 

What does it mean to be at home?  The protagonist in my novel, Jaguar Sun, discovers that home is a personal construct requiring both inner and outer resources. Before he can come to that place, he has to know who he is. Knowing that, he can be comfortable wherever he sleeps. From a physical standpoint, the nest in the above image, a composite of twigs, dirt and other items gathered from the environment, provide the bird and its young with warmth and protection. Is that the essence of home? Does a roof over our heads with comfortable appliances and furnishing do the same for us?

Might we also consider that, given our composite nature, the place we call “home” includes emotional and psychological environments that are conducive to comfortable living and peace of mind? Or is home just where we have our stuff? Is it the place where we live with significant others? As an armchair anthropologist, what stands out for me is the diversity of responses to these questions. In the end,  home is a construct. Largely because of the diversity in upbringing and life experience, we define it differently. 

It’s been said that “Home is where the heart is.” I’m reminded of a prior post featuring a closeup image of a chicken egg. Nested within such an egg, there’s nourishment, safety, comfort, connection and the development of potential. Maybe what we want in a home is not all that different.

Considering the meaning of the word “home,” one of the fundamental characteristics of living systems is  “nesting.” We live and move and have our being somewhere in the middle between quarks and cosmos, between suffering and peace. Along the way, we learn that a home isn’t merely a place. 

If there is to be peace in the world,

There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,

There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,

There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,

There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,

There must be peace in the heart.

Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher



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