What Is Home?

The question of what is home has always been a curious one to me. Having had such a fractured relationship with the concept during my formative years through the regular moves associated with the care experience and then through homelessness, I wanted to explore the idea of home as something that is often not able to be a place. I wanted to unpick this idea of home and so I asked around to see what insights I might find.

Hiraeth

“A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning. The grief for the lost places of the past.”

I first came across this word Hiraeth in conversation with Rosie Canning who is currently writing her PhD looking at the representation of care leavers in literature and writing an autobiographical novel.

“When I first came across the word Hiraeth, I knew it was significant, like that feeling of looking through light-filled windows, hoping a door will open, hoping to be invited in and the inevitable sadness that follows. So I adopted Hiraeth for care leavers. I used to think of home as the last children’s home I had lived in when I was a child. I thought of its green painted gate and the front door with gold lettering. The red Formica table in the kitchen and jars of pulses and grains. The open fire and piano. The lemon candlewick bedspread and sunshine that shone through the yellow flowered curtains. I remember every room in that house. The third step-at-the-top of the stairs that used to squeak, the bathroom where I tried to catch a fly with the orange bath rug that crashed through the window and the scented garden full of roses. I clung onto that home, those memories, like a climber on a precipice. Those memories made me normal: a person with a home. Yet in recent years, I’ve needed those memories less. Home has become something less tangible. It’s not a physical place anymore. It’s not a yearning. But it is a feeling, that is constant. I can be with people or not and it is still there. I can be inside or out, warming my toes by an open fire or washing my body in a stream. I can be anywhere. I have many homes in many parts of the world, my family, my partner, my friends. My love for them and their love for me, is my home. Without them, I am a wanderer, I am bereft, I am homeless.” Rosie Canning

“Home is a place of safety and security where I can be myself without the stresses and strains of fulfilling a professional role where my knowledge and expertise is called upon and challenged minute by minute. Home is also the place where all of my favourite people inhabit and where I know that I am loved unconditionally and accepted whatever mood I’m and however I look. This is not to say that it is perfect, as perfection is an illusion, there is sometimes conflict and stress, but this is usually short-lived. However, I know that for many children and families, home is a source of conflict, stress and pain and I am always torn between being grateful for my lot and feeling deep empathy and hurt for others.” Dr Carolyn Blackburn

“This is my home, my place for as long as it lasts and although it isn’t permanent (I am a property guardian) what I can take from this moment is that no matter where I go I will build a home for me. I recognise that this is a transferable skill, one I have honed over many house moves with children in tow. I can trust that I do know what I need as I knew what my children needed and that given time and the opportunity to express those needs I will bring beauty, calm and creativity to my life and anyone who shares it with me.

There have been times when I have despaired at the thought of what my future would be and mourned deeply the loss of the home I shared with my family. This morning I know that I have found my home. It is not based on place or things, it is based on the love I have for my people; my family and friends and for myself.

It is always with me.” Woman, recently separated, 58

“Growing up I presumed home was where I slept at night, regardless of how I felt inside. Now as a “house” owner, I know that home is the space you have or create where you feel safe and secure and happy inside. I would say a heart makes a house and home.” Carrie Harrop

“As a child, home was a place to be avoided at every opportunity. If I could stay with a friend after school, or grandparents for the weekend, I felt safe. As soon as I left, aged just 17, I wanted to create a place where home meant peace, safety, love, laughter. I find any excuse to stay at home now, to welcome others into it and to share the feelings it generates in me. Our Home can be a place of safety, of personal space we choose to share with only those we love and where we can be whoever we choose to be without judgement.” Dinah Liversidge, Massive Change Mentor

“Home” has meant different things at different stages in my life. I was born in New Delhi, India — even though my parents had already ‘set up a new home’ in London. At just over a year old, I was brought to London and I grew up in north London. During this time, ‘home’ meant the ‘house where my parents’ lived. I did not feel deep affiliation with India, even though I was travelling back there a fair bit to see members of the extended family. Going off to University, in Cambridge was a semi-liberating experience: on the one hand it opened my eyes to other ways of living and being, especially through meeting and falling in love with someone while I was there who was of a totally different heritage, background and thinking. I felt for the first time ‘a genuine mix of British and Indian-ness’; on the other hand, it was de-stabilising, as it opened the floodgates of questioning cultural and society’s norms (of both British and Indian culture) about home, family, creating your own home, and having to ‘pick one identity’ and stay faithful to that.”

This questioning and confusion continued to my late 20s. Then I made a trip to north India, having not been back for a decade, to study Yoga. And curiously I felt very ‘at home’ there. Not India as such, but the natural surroundings of where I was and the ancient spiritual ways of the place. I felt a direct connection to this. I returned to India to study and practice more yoga and meditation a couple of times in the years following that.

There was a point in my mid 30s where I even contemplated moving to India to ‘set up a new life and home’. My peer group and generally those around me seemed very settled and clear about how they wanted to live, and those I had studied with or knew while growing up had set up home in the suburbs or nice places in and around London or were determined to actively create a home, including ‘the I-must have children’ to feel complete notion. While I liked the idea of having a place of my own, this I did not equate — anymore — to ‘home’. My relationship to ‘things’, ‘having a house’, and ‘creating a family’ loosened to the extent they became just ideas and things you do. They didn’t have a pull on how I felt about life, my purpose or even towards people or potential partners. It was during this time that ‘home’ began to take on a new meaning… it became associated, for me, with ‘anywhere where I felt at ease to be myself — and anywhere where I could go to bed at night and feel safe’.

That feeling has not only remained with me till now, but it seems to have grown — no doubt as my yoga and meditation and spiritual inquiry has gone on and deepened beyond body and mind.

Now I feel that ‘home’ is something to connect to in any given moment, even when not feeling safe or put out of my comfort zone. It’s the place where my essential self, or un-egoic spirit, and the universe meet. That is home. Meditation and trying to live well help me connect to this place and I would love to be able to share it with as many others as possible, along the way in this journey of life.” Divya Kohli, Yoga And Meditation Teacher

“Home. ‘Coming back to myself’; sense of belonging. It is not a place/house necessarily but a feeling. “Getting it and being ‘got‘ ” as well. I feel like I’m coming home in a spiritual sense when I go to New Zealand but I also feel like I’m ‘home’ when I’m with my husband. I felt very ‘at home’ on the couple of times I’ve been in Barcelona that I’ve not felt in other places around the world.” Kirsten Hanlon, Well Parent Advocate

“Having lived in so many different homes and adapted to so many different norms about those homes, I long came to understand what home means to me. It is simply a state of mind.

In times of transition and struggle, amid intervals of disappointment and heartache, when I have felt dislocated, uprooted, or abandoned, the sense of being alone in the world without a place to call my own — literally or figuratively — has been a hallmark of my experiences.

In these times of ‘homelessness’, I have learned that home means more than ceilings, walls and windows. Home is where I find my balance. It is a pivot point that connects me to the ground. Therefore, home has an existential significance that reflects my search for the reason why I’m on this earth in the first place.” Pav Akhtar, UNI Global Union Director of Professionals and Managers

It seems to me that ‘home’ is, at its most basic, a sense of safety. Belonging, warmth, connection and other beating hearts follow, but without that sense of safety, we have nothing. My mind naturally wanders to the millions of people around the world who do not feel safe and I tilt my head with a sadness that is further overwhelmed by powerlessness; an uncomfortable and often overbearing combination. There is some comfort in understanding that home may be a place that we can find, wherever we are, in terrible moments of madness, just by closing our eyes and allowing ourselves to breathe and connect with that feeling of ‘home’.

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