“How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”
― William Faulkner
My family tells me that I don’t travel well. For me the best part of any trip is coming home. I think I’ve gotten worse as I’ve aged. I used to be a happy camper. Something must have happened to me along the way.
Historically, America has valued the home and made great efforts to be sure that more of her citizens were homeowners. Owning a home has tremendous economic, political and social benefits for everyone (even those who don’t). The higher the rate of home ownership, the better it is for our society. Currently, home ownership in America is at an 18 year low. Our economic misfortunes are still defeating us, especially at home.
Home is a physical location where we hang our hat and rest our head. But it is more than that. It is a physical place that serves as ground zero for the formation of our most basic human relationships. It is the physical environment in which we construct the most intimate and essential experiences of our lives. Home is a refuge where we escape and find solace from the chaos and corruption that is outside.
Recently we had a water leak in our home. The damage caused us to have to undertake major repairs. Two things happened that reminded me how important home is and all the ways that I take it for granted. You’ve probably had similar experiences.
- We had to move into a hotel for a period of time while repairs were being made. This wasn’t a hotel at some resort destination that we had been planning for months. No this was something down the road in which we could manage to get a reservation. Did you know that Houston has had a major hotel shortage for years? Keeps us from being as big a convention destination as you’d think the fourth largest city in America would be. It’s also difficult to book a room on a short notice! Suddenly being away from home was a disorienting feeling. I packed sensibly, but still felt like a man on the run. All my stuff wasn’t around me and what I brought just wasn’t enough. I found it difficult to travel lightly and to make a home just down the street with a few suitcases of possessions.
- When I was at my home during these repairs there were crews of workers coming in and out all through the day all week long for several weeks. They had a key so they could get in when they wanted. They were making repairs in almost all the rooms of the house. There was nowhere the dog and I could go and hide out from all these strangers. During these repairs I felt like my home had been invaded. These were the good guys but still they were strangers. I had to be ready at a moment’s notice for someone to arrive and start fixing something. There was nowhere to go and be secluded from all the chaos and disarray.
We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us. ― Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness
Ideally, home provides us with three unique kinds of experiences:
- When we come home and shut the door we are drawing up the bridge, sealing the gates and raising the flag. Our home is a castle, remember? We use this metaphor because of the sense of security it can afford us. This isn’t a literal security from all the bad guys, it’s deeper than that. It’s a sense that we have within us that we are now in a protected and familiar realm. What happens here is largely in my control and I know exactly where I am. We have retreated here from the world of strangers and find a peace that we search for and never find until we come back home.
- It is in our home that we interact over and over again with those who are closest to us. Home provides the context and atmosphere in which we experience the building of meaningful life in the most mundane of activities. We find love and acceptance in this safe domain. It’s not a single statement that someone handed to you in a greeting card but rather a lifetime of exchanges and little gestures that communicated the deepest of sentiments and made you who you are. This rare collection of memories and practices take place for almost all of us in our home.
- The home represents to us, whether we are present or away, a unique way of living that is all our own. Our homes become for us the essential stage upon which our lives are acted out again and again. We practice so much in our home when we are growing up. Our families help us to rehearse and then get it right. Our home introduces us to the world. This same world makes sense to us because we have a home to use as a measuring rod and compass.
There are of course threats to our home. Divorce and single parenthood disrupts and handicaps the relationships that provide security and stability to our lives. Economic uncertainty threatens the way of life experienced by each member of the household. Careers that take us away from our homes too much and that insert themselves into our homes via technology reduce the experience of home and minimize its wholesome benefits to everyone in a family.
A minor water leak reminded me of how easy it is to disrupt the harmony and rhythm of my home. It now makes me ever more careful to not take this little place on earth for granted.
What we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding onto.
― Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness