Going home is a return to safety and belonging. But which way is home?
Going home is what happens after a journey. It is a return to safety and belonging, and to the familiar. It may require a physical return to family, or to the landscape of our childhood. It may need no travel at all.
We return home when we are tired, or at our journey’s end, or when we have lost our way. Sometimes, going home is to turn our back on something we thought we were, or wanted. Sometimes, the only way to get home is to go back the way we came.
We go home by remembering ourselves. We are called home by what is most important or valuable to us. When we are at home, we are at peace with who we are.
The Odyssey is one of the world’s oldest poems, and is a story about going home. The Trojan War has ended, but Odysseus has not returned to his family. His son Telemachus says this of his whereabouts:
The winds have seized him,
And he is nameless and unknown.
Going home is not just a return to Ithaca: Odysseus gets back there halfway through the story. He must also reclaim his true form (he arrives disguised as an old man), his name, his throne, his household, his lineage, his renown, and his marital bed.
Home is inside us. It was always there, a single step or breath away. Home can only be found inside us because home is where we belong — and we belong to ourselves, and to life, and to nothing and no one else. The poet Herman Hesse wrote this about home:
Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
When we are at home, we rediscover how we belong to ourselves. Remembering how we belong to the world, we set out again, on a new journey into the unfamiliar.
They made me read The Odyssey at school. Then I read it willingly, 40 years later. What a difference that made. Emily Wilson’s translation is very good: a great story told in simple, sparse language that skips along in iambic pentameters (ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum).
Thank you also Maria for The Marginalian, which I get in my inbox every Sunday. You have pointed me to so many good books over the years.