Certain words in any language are imbued with meaning, fraught with poignancy and saturated with concept and an intensity of emotion that can engender the most intense reaction in most individuals. Certain words simply carry with them such a plethora of emotive responses yet carry reactions so intrinsically personal that even the least-engaged person can relate.
Home.... home is one of those words.
Our literature and media is saturated with the concept of "home" from "there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home" and ruby slippers to hearth and home to a simple yet heartfelt cry heard by every parent "I want to go home". Popular literature and film like to exhibit "home" in terms of neighbourhoods and towns, of homes where generations of family have trod the worn boards and stood at the same windows. But for me, home is such a relative term.
When stressed, despairing or anxious I often mentally repeat to myself, a mantra of comfort, "I want to go home"... yet oddly, do not have in mind anything made of bricks and mortar nor a specific street but rather, a state of mind.
It’s something I think about probably more often than I should. But often, I feel unmoored, untethered, a kite flapping in a capricious breeze, broken line snapping uselessly, no hand to guide and keep me safe.
Where is home for a wandering, foot weary selkie?
Moving to Canada when I was 6, "Home" was always Ireland’s green fields, it was the slick smell of cobblestones under the soft Irish mist, and the smell of steamed milk and strong dark coffee in Bewley’s. A year in Canada and then an arid island in the middle of a tropical sea was "home" and buzzards circling the sparse sun-burnt brush and the deep endless turquoise of an endless sea... the deep cold beauty of a mountain lake and the lushness of ancient trees were powerfully home to me for a brief, unforgettable interlude in the Eastern Townships, then here, there and everywhere and eventually at 14 back to Montreal....
For a very long time, although my tenure in that city was relatively brief (6 years), Montreal was "home". I think one’s adolescent years are pivotal ones and in many ways create markers which impact and create memories that resonate in the remainder of your life.
And I have so many.
Stepping into the church today with my mother, memories rushed back and enveloped me in a kaleidoscope of refracted time which sang and danced and hummed in the background of my heart while I followed the comforting ritual of a sacrament in which I no longer believe.
At 16 with D. on my arm for the first Xmas with us and beside us my dearest friend and brother of the heart (Norman with his shock of dark hair, pale skin and clear eyes he could have been brother in truth) and Christmas cheer churning in my stomach until right at the midnight mass Norm hustled me outside where I proceeded to puke my guts out while my parents` friends walked by laughing. Home was a chaotic, welcoming house bursting at the seams with people and welcome and jockeying of five girls for a single small bathroom, and my father, sitting quiet at the dining room table, mouth half smiling and watching the circus of energy and enjoying every moment, glasses perched on his nose, green eyes merry.
Montreal was where I called home, alone and forlorn in my New Brunswick university and cried, me on one end of the line, my mother on the other.
And through my wanderings over the next few years, it remained `home` even on our arrival in Toronto and my attempt to put down roots. For here I have been for four times longer than my tenure in any other place yet it is still not `home`.
I do not in any way undermine Toronto- in truth it is an incredible city full of fascinating, eclectic neighbourhoods, with magnificent islands just an affordable ferry ride away, theatres, sports arenas and a nightclub district that through all reports (not personally known) is superlative.
But it is not `home` and several years ago – at least 12 or 15 – I realized I no longer even thought `home`` when I thought of Montreal and on my frequent visits back no longer did I yearn for the quiet tree-lined streets I despised as a teenager nor hanker for the European flavour of its cityscape.
I realized then that I was rootless and homeless in truth. My mantra ``I want to go home`` did not in any way encompass the physical realities of brick and stone. My yearning for ``home`` was entirely unrelated to physical structures, to the flavour of a culture nor the taste of a language. While I feel a sweet sense of sorrow that once my mother is gone the small brick bungalow and the street on which I was a teenager will probably never be seen again, it is momentary and passing.
No. For me, when I yearn to go ``home`` it is a state of mind to which I wish egress. It is a place where my heart will be content, where my soul is at peace. Somewhere I will feel safe, where I will feel able to lay down the burdens I carry and which weigh so heavily sometimes on my shoulders. `Home` is a place not in the corporeal world in which we live, but a sweet, enveloping emotion that embraces and soothes. `Home` is safety and cherishing and comfort. It is the knowledge that you are somewhere you are supposed to be. Home is not something that can be bound about by description nor put in a box. Home is a refuge you carry in your heart so it is with you all the time, no matter where you wander.
I want to go home ....