“Home is a name, a word, it is a strong one; stronger than magician ever spoke, or spirit ever answered to, in the strongest conjuration.”
~ Charles Dickens ~
When Judy Garland uttered that iconic line in The Wizard of Oz, “There’s no place like home!”, the world momentarily believed “home” was just a click away of those shimmering red ruby slippers. Millions of beguiled cinema-goers bought into the mystical attachment we have with home not only as a physical space to live in, but also somewhere we “belong”. Somewhere loving Aunty Em and Uncle Henry-like figures wait to greet us at a house with a picket fence that is the definition of the saying “home is where the heart is”. But if only it were that simple.
The average number of times a person moves home in their lifetime is eight. And yet as I approach my third decade on this earth, I’ve moved house on more than twenty occasions. Straddling the north and south of England for the last decade has at times left me feeling a lot like Hovis 50/50 bread; half southern, half northern, with an identity crisis wedged somewhere in between.
Like the nomadic tortoise which carries its home on its back, home for itinerant young millennials such as myself is the suitcase we stuff our belongings into. And so it’s always difficult to pinpoint (geographically at least) where exactly “home” is, especially when people are nonplussed by your accent which is apparently an amalgamation of Michael Caine, a BBC newsreader, and an Australian wandering far from home.
Maybe it’s because of our innate desire to want to belong somewhere that we begin grasping desperately at different ideas of what “home” is, in order to retain some sense of identity and belonging.
We humans are forever in need of planting our roots somewhere so that when we die, we can leave our footprint on the earth in the form of our children, our accomplishments and in a way our homes as well. You can read about the lives we lived inscribed on our homes much like the history etched on the surface of a tree. That box we call “home”, which would sprout arms and legs with a little encouragement, house not only people. They house memories lived out there which remain bottled inside its four walls long after its occupants have gone.
For me it’s no longer simply a matter of where home is, but also who or what home might be. “Home” has become an emotive experience, a bunch of sensory throwbacks to my childhood. For instance, no matter where I am, the scent of freshly cooked saalan (curry), an explosion of spices and fried onions for anyone not familiar with South Asian cuisine, takes me back to the cobbled streets of Bradford where my mum grew up. My grandmother’s recitation of the Quran every night in a voice reminiscent of a Muslim Nina Simone meets Bollywood songstress, never fails to remind me of how I would drift off to sleep with her voice in the background.
The funny thing is some of us who despite having never stepped foot over the mental and physical borders which separate our towns and cities, spend a lifetime suffering from perpetual homesickness. It doesn’t just take constantly moving from place to place to create a void within us which fuels our search for a place to belong. In a world where conformity is the harsh norm, we’ve become the Eleanor Rigby the Beatles sang about, leaving our real faces in a jar by the doors of our homes before we step outside. Like Christopher Nolan’s protagonist from Interstellar, those people are forever searching for a home away from home; one they’ve never been to but they yearn for as if it had found its way into their bloodstream. That search for home eventually takes us within ourselves I think, because home is, as Herman Hesse once wrote, “within you, or home is nowhere at all.”
Ultimately, when you move house as many times as I have, you come to realise that home is not just a physical, tangible space that consists of four walls and a roof. “Home” is a state being. It is a feeling; one of safety; one of belonging; a safe space where you can take off the mask you wear for the world and be accepted for who you are.
Builders might be responsible for laying down the physical foundations of the house you occupy. But it’s the inhabitants of a house that do the real work. They lay down the mental foundations which make a cold, unwelcome house, metamorphose into a warm and luminous home.
The late Maya Angelou once wrote:
“We feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.”
And that’s the most remarkable thing of all. How all along, all we had to do to find home was to look within ourselves.