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.