By Christopher Sikes
There are probably as many definitions of home as there are beings on the planet, but there are a few things we can all agree on. Home is a hearth, a place to shelter our bodies comfortably and sustainably. Home is a haven for the heart, a place to nurture family and friends, a community, a way of life. Home provides a comfort zone, a hedge against our mortality so that we aren’t anguished by thoughts of loss or permanent endings. Lately I’ve been diving deep into my own treasure house of memories, considering when I got it right—and why home is still elusive.
My mother lived in the past, and when reality didn’t measure up to her ideal of a Currier and Ives Christmas, she was angry and hurt and made our home life miserable. I dreaded that time of year until I managed to create my own sense of home and belonging around the holidays, as an adult.
One year, I put together an annual caroling party with a group of musicians. When we went to a local nursing home and serenaded them, all of us–both singers and residents—were touched by songs we recalled from childhood. Afterward we came back to my place for a pot luck dinner and more music and we’ve made this a tradition every year. Now I have my own version of a Currier and Ives Christmas—one both satisfying and attainable.
Home, I know, can be a way of healing and repairing the past. Of creating the safe space I’ve always needed. Under the best conditions, it’s a place where I’m surrounded by like-minded people, my cello and piano, and the rooms are always full of music.
Searching for Connection
What are the aspects of home I’m still inventing? Well, I have always wanted to be with someone special, to have a partner I’m attracted to, to share the details of my daily life. Though I’m approaching retirement, I want that relationship as much now as I did when I was in my twenties. After breaking up with my partner of 20 years and spending another nine on my own, I long for another presence in my house. I think of my bachelor life as somehow temporary. When I have someone to share these rooms, I tell myself, then I’ll have a “real home.”
My community is a work in progress, too. For three decades, I’ve lived in Happy Valley, the tongue-in-check-name for the Connecticut River Valley, which carves out Vermont from New Hampshire, and cuts all the way through Massachusetts and through Connecticut before it empties out into the Long Island Sound. My neighbors are creative types—musicians, painters, actors, dancers–and academics. The Valley has six colleges and a state university, and we live in a bubble of liberalism and activism. Yet in my small town, two homeless people froze to death in their makeshift tents this winter. Many many more have died of opioid overdoses. We also have the largest segregation of Latinos and Whites in the country. Yes, I love living here but the Valley has a way to go before I can be proud of the way we care for others.
Today I own a condo, one of 36 units in six buildings of the Briar Knoll community, that fits many of my requirements: Real cheap, easy to maintain, no shoveling or grass cutting with plenty of room for a single person. Two bedrooms, one and a half baths, a living room, dining room and kitchen and a full cellar. The development is quiet and well landscaped, but if I could afford to move right now, I’d choose an area with more diversity. Not just with white people over 65 who define their lives around the physical comforts of condo living. I long for the vibrancy of other cultures, other generations.
Where is My True Home?
My work life is the place I feel most at home—the one area where heart and hearth overlap. For the past 30 years, I have run Common Capital, a nonprofit bank that has enabled many people to start small creative businesses that serve the community, and helped others to build affordable housing.
This nonprofit has done great things for the economic health of the region, and our sense of home, and my years of service will soon provide me with a modest but adequate retirement. But as retirement time approaches, I don’t know what I want to do. Do I want to write? Volunteer? Or keep the regional banking and Slow Money movement going, using all the contacts and influence that I’ve seeded? I am looking for answers. I am anxious. Some days I wonder: Why don’t I feel more at home within myself?
All my life I’ve tried to help others find their sense of home — and I’m particularly sensitive to this as I watch the next generation struggle. We boomers never thought we’d be home base after the kids grew up. But, of course, we are, and our children keep returning. If not for shelter, then for advice on how to find their place in a rapidly changing world. I have an adult son who is transitioning and is on the front lines of redefining gender. And my daughter just had her second baby, after losing her first to a sudden, virulent infection. We are all happy with this miracle of new life, and yet I am on edge both for my children and my granddaughter. The years ahead will be challenging; they are launched but they still aren’t “home.”
Finding My Own Safe Place
The body is the temple of my soul, I mutter as my Pilates instructor puts us through the plank. My abs are screaming, Screw the soul and take a break. My lungs have a similar complaint as I pedal uphill on my bike, with a slightly a-fib heart that has lost its turbo charge. When I have dinner with friends, my stomach sighs as I pass on the tiramisu.
At the local coffee shop each morning, I watch twenty-somethings with their perfect physiques glide by with their lattes. Will I ever be at home in my body again, and be as easy in it, as they are in theirs? What is this thing called aging, and how do I learn to be at home with it?
As the weather turns each year, I grow philosophical. On a chilly Sunday night, I lie in bed sneezing and wheezing and coughing, felled by a miserable head cold. Outside, an icy rain is falling. The wind comes in gusts pounding on the roof and windows. Frail and feverish, I am grateful for my sheets and blankets and my ever- so-comfortable bed. Surrounding me are four strong walls and a ceiling and a solid floor: all warm and dry. I have my house, my friends, my family, a community, a successful career and much to be thankful for. But still I am consumed with the thought of “coming home.”
As I watch the storm, I suddenly realize I am part of the ice and the wind. In this vast universe where I am but a speck and there is no anthropomorphic god, I don’t feel alone. I have the companionship of the sky and trees, and all living things. When I contemplate my place in this larger scheme, I receive a great gift: Peace of mind without yearning.
I imagine the hills behind my house, bathed in sunlight and basking in a gentle breeze, a place of utter calm. That’s when I finally understand: Home is a place that’s been there all along — just waiting for me to arrive.