Two years of graduate school and a life in the city, and here I am found in the comfort of home. It is good to be in my native place. Sites are familiar and have meaning. People’s faces are not those of strangers. Smells on the air find their way to my bones.
When my wife and I made the decision to return to the place of our birth, friends and family were surprised and cautiously happy. For us, we were feeling the tuggings of what we now understand as the need for belonging, community, and love.
We are driving on our country roads, meandering a paved path through corn, wheat, and cut hay. An overnight on the AT in Michaux State Forest is our plan. The humidity is low, the sun is high. We see honest men working in the fields. We damn federal government policies that directly cause and allow the demise of the family farmer, the small landowner central to Jefferson’s vision of a democratic republic. How much longer before the landscape that resonates in our souls changes to something else? What does it matter when the new landscape will likely resound in another’s soul? Is one resonance more valuable than the other? Despite these disconcerting questions, we manage to smile. Life’s poetry occurring around us has found our hearts.
The roads continue north and west through the orchards. Hills filled with apple and peach trees roll gently to the forested slopes of our destination. Again, we see honest men working. They are brown-skinned and not in their native land, here to do a job that would otherwise go undone. I hope they feel welcomed in my homeland.
Over the ridge, into the parking area, a quick check of gear, and we are now standing at the trailhead. Packs on our backs, dirt beneath our feet, and miles of walking ahead of us are welcomed by us. Could home be more than a place? Could home be a journey? Is home truly where the heart is? If so, why does land seem to have such a profound impact on us? Surely, we can read the opinions of the world’s great philosophers to gain insight into such queries. But we would rather make sense of it on our own.
We all want to feel welcomed wherever it is that we are, or wherever it is that we are going. When we go to another’s house, the most enjoyable times are those when the hosts are warm and receptive, when they are gracious and honored to have you in their home. Soon, we are not looking at the clock, nor are we wishing to leave. We are communing with our fellow beings.
There really is not much else to it. If and when we are able to find our way home, we should then extend ourselves to others along the path while they are journeying homeward. A listening ear, a simple hello, an offering of food, heartfelt advice, and other gestures demonstrating our homage for one another would allow us to always feel at home.
If we allow for it, the adage “Home is where the heart is” can take on a fuller meaning by asking ourselves, do I offer my heart to others to make them feel at home? It is not only about our own sense of belonging. It is everything about ensuring that we all feel belonged no matter the locale.
When we feel deeply, the emotion sometimes becomes associated with the landscape we are in. When we return to the land where we felt deeply, the memory returns. In the memory we feel again. If the feeling is one of love, brought about by experiencing welcome-ness and belonging, the heart is nourished. Again, we are home.
(written 26 October 2003)