Write a short story (600 – 1000 words) that describes your sense of home; write about the values and the stories that you use to connect yourself to, and to identify your sense of home.
Home has always been a difficult concept for me. But maybe difficult isn’t the right word. In many ways, a sense of home comes really easily to me, it’s the opposite of difficult. But this ease also makes it hard to pin down exactly what home is.
I tell people I live at home (meaning I live with my parents), but by home I really mean house. When I finished high school I moved into University Residence. Then I lived in a tent for four months. Then I went back to my parents house. Then I moved to Sweden. And then I moved back to Canada and back in with my parents. And at each step in this process, when I went to bed each night I felt like I was at home. Maybe confusing is the right word. Home is confusing.
I blame this confusion on my family.
For two generations the lives of my family have been defined by diasporas. My mother’s father was a Polish Jew, who fled Europe during the second world war with his brothers and mother. His father (my great-grandfather) would join them in South Africa once he was released from concentration camp. In South Africa, my grandfather would eventually meet my grandmother: an Irish Protestant who had left Ireland and most of her family just before The Troubles. The two of them lived in South Africa for the rest of their lives, but I couldn’t tell you where they called home.
On the other side of my family, my dad’s parents left England once the second world war ended and they realized there were no jobs for uneducated ex-soldiers. They were part of the more than 2 million people who moved to Australia between 1945 and 1965. The commonwealth paid for their trip on the condition that they remained in Australia for at least two years and worked whatever job they were given. For my grandfather, that meant being a door-to-door paper salesman. When the two years were up they left Australia for South Africa, once again pulling up roots to chase the dream of better jobs. Jobs that could provide for their family. I don’t know if there was any space for home in this kind of decision making.
Fast forward a bit and you get my parents, with a four year old son and a six-month old daughter, realizing that Apartheid South Africa is not the place they want to be raising their children. They left South Africa and all their family and friends for the mysterious and distant land of Canada, where we have lived ever since.
I apologize for the family history, but I guess my point is that having come out of this tradition I’ve always assumed that I’d leave too. Whatever home means to me, place seems to have no part in it.
When I reflect on the various places my family has called home, and the various reasons for which they have abandoned these homes, a common theme emerges: security. Security for themselves, their jobs, or their family. It seems that security is a prerequisite for a sense of home; where fear exists, home cannot.
I can recognize this relationship in my own life as well. The only time I have really felt home sick, implying that I felt home was somewhere else, was one of those nights spent in my tent in Northern Alberta.
It began like any other night of my time treeplanting. We got back from work, covered in dirt and mosquito bites, just in time to rinse our hands (achieving nothing but turning the dirt to mud) before we ate dinner. As we ate, the clouds that had been brooding all day finally broke, unleashing a torrent of water upon our camp.
If anything, the rain got harder as I ran back to my tent. I didn’t care. I was exhausted, sore, and dreading the thought of waking up at 5 am for another 12-hour day of planting tomorrow. I passed out to the sound of rain pounding against the fly of my tent.
A few hours later I woke up, once again to the sound of rain. Waking up during the night was a rare occurrence for me, especially after a tiring day of work, so it took me a while to realize what had woken me. I was wet. I figured out later that my tent must have been in a slight impression in the ground, meaning that the heavy rain had turned my nice dry tent site into a pond. It was about one in the morning at this point, and I realized I wasn’t just wet, I was soaking, as was everything around me. The grand sum of my worldly possessions. Soaked.
There wasn’t much I could do until the morning. There was nowhere to go, it was 100 km to the nearest paved road, and who knows how much further to a structure that wasn’t a tent. Lying there, cold, wet, and shivering, with nothing to do but wait, I did not feel at home. I wanted more than anything to be at home. I didn’t know where that was, but I knew it wasn’t in that tent.
I wonder however, are feelings of safety sufficient to create a sense of home? Or is it just one of the many prerequisites? Having been lucky enough to almost always feel at home, I don’t feel able to answer these questions. All I know is that if there’s something more important to a sense of home than safety, I haven’t found it yet.
June 8, 2016 — 7:24 pm
I agree that security is a necessity for home and I know many would agree that it is a prerequisite, but after reading your description I wonder how much ‘ownership’ comes into the definition as well. Being able to confidently claim somewhere as home and be proud of it.
I’m also the child of immigrants (my father from South America, my maternal grandparents from the Netherlands) and growing up I loved hearing stories about their journeys to Canada. My grandfather was the youngest of 9 and in his family tradition that meant he got little to no inheritance. After leaving the army his brother got the family farm and his other brothers had moved on. He had nowhere to go and chose Canada as that place of opportunity.
For me, I find that his pride in claiming roots somewhere defines his sense of home as well as mine (even if it’s still in my parents home, despite how little time I’ve spent there in the last 3 years). It’s satisfying to say “this is mine” and even after moving around a lot I always make the effort to make that claim proudly.
Did you consider qualities other than security that may come second to that for you? And I wonder what your thoughts are on how these impressions of home relate to recent immigrants of Canada compared to Natives compared to those who may be long descendants of immigrants?
PS your family’s history is amazing!
July 21, 2016 — 1:03 pm
June 8, 2016 — 10:04 pm
Thanks for your comment! I agree that ownership is likely very important for creating a sense of home for many people, and in many ways goes hand-in-hand with security and an overall sense of control over ones future.
I think the implication of these ‘criteria for home’ that we have been discussing this week for the people of Canada (be they Indigenous, recently immigrated, or descendants of immigrants) are potentially very powerful. Being able to identify common themes that allow people to feel at home might help us ensure that Canada can be a welcoming home for people of all backgrounds, whether they’ve been here for generations or hours. I think security, and to your point ownership, are very important for creating the space for this sense of home to develop.
June 10, 2016 — 10:44 am
What an adventurous life you’ve led so far! Security does give us a sense of home. As much as we need safety where our home is, is there truly security in this world? For me, I think one can construct a seemingly safe and secure setting, but everything is really subject to change. I think the ephemeral certainty we perceive in our environment is what temporarily allay fear. Thanks for your post.
June 10, 2016 — 2:27 pm
Thanks for your comment Lorraine! I think you are right, often being safe isn’t as important as feeling safe, and often safety is hard to come by in this world.