I have been reading a lot lately, those kind of books that you can't put down. One of them has this wonderful passage:
The Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade talked about home - ontological as well as geographical home - and in a lovely phrase, he calls home 'the heart of the real'.
Home, he tells us, is the intersection of two lines - the vertical and horizontal. The vertical plane has heaven, or the upper world, at one end. The horizontal plane is the traffic of this world, moving to and fro - our own traffic and that of teeming others.
Home was a place of order. A place where the order of things come together - the living and dead- the spirits of ancestors and the present inhabitants, and the gathering up and stilling of all the to-and-fro.
Leaving home can only happen because there is a home to leave. And the leaving is never just a geographical or spatial separation; it is an emotional separation - wanted or unwanted. Steady or ambivalent.
For the refugee, for the homeless, the lack of this crucial coordinate in the placing of the self has severe consequences. At best, it must be managed, made up for in some way. At worst, a displaced person, literally, does not know which was is up, because there is no true north. No compass point. Home is much more than shelter; home is our center of gravity.
A nomadic people learn to take their homes with them - and the familiar objects are spread out or re-erected from place to place. When we move house, we take with us the invisible concept of home- but it is a very powerful concept. Mental health and emotional continuity do not require us to stay in the same place, but they do require a sturdy structure on the inside - and that structure is built in part by what has happened on the outside. The inside and outside of our lives are each the shell where we learn to live.
For the author, Jeanette Winterson, home was not a place of order or safety so when she was forced to leave at a young age she found that a small rug, she bought when she left, was her home, her map of all the places she stayed in in those early days after leaving home.
I read these few words four or five times when I reached them in the book. I found them cathartic. The home I grew up in was my centre of gravity, I had not been forced to leave when I did so but after I left I found myself moving often. I lived in the same house for the whole of my memorable life until I left at nearly nineteen, before settling in my current house thirteen years later I moved at least twenty times probably more. If I ever had to complete a form detailing everywhere I had lived for the previous five years I often had to attach an extra sheet of paper. I always took the same few possessions with me for most of these moves, the few things that I could pack in my rucksack and, then when I came to own one, my car. Each of the rooms I inhabited were the same the shape of the room and configuration of my possessions were different, but I now realise they could still be home, like the nomads in the above quote that was my continuity.
It is also, I now realise, why when my parents moved recently, out of the house I spent seventeen years living in I did not feel any kind of sadness when I first visited their new home. I dreaded that first visit, I thought I would find going to a new house, one that I have not and never will live in too strange but it was actually fine and still felt like a familiar and safe place. It is filled with all the objects that are part of my childhood, that are familiar, that were my centre of gravity for all those really important years of growing up. I hope I can provide the same for my own children.