Finding Home In Far-Off Places
Some people feel as if they have only one true home in the world, others have many homes spread over time and place, and some roam free creating and recreating ‘home’ wherever they find themselves. Then there are others who don’t know where home is—who feel a loss inside they can’t explain. These people, these ‘dandelion seeds in the wind’, are left to search for this ‘feeling of home’. This feeling of home, for most people, is vital to emotional health and it’s very closely connected with our sense of belonging. Without a secure sense of belonging it’s easy to slip into loneliness and depression and other psychological ills.
I was a dandelion seed. I rarely felt ‘home’ until, after a long and restless search, I found it on the other side of the world, in Argentina.
‘Could this be your new home?’ An Argentine friend asked one night after I had been living in Buenos Aires for about six months.
‘Maybe,’ I said, my brow involuntarily creasing, a combination of doubt and intrigue.
Later that same night I tried to collect all my separate thoughts and push them into a coherent thread. I wondered: What is home? Is it a house, a city, a country, a place with certain people or family connected to it? Is it a place where you feel loved and understood? I had never actively thought about it. Then the Spanish word hogar flashed at the edge of my consciousness, and my mind focused in on it.
Hogar means ‘home’ as opposed to ‘house’, casa. It also means fireplace or hearth—the heart of a home.
Something about fire and a hearth made me scratch back through my memory files from Anthropology classes. The first humans were mostly nomadic back when giant creatures roamed free. The fireplace, the hearth, was the centre of their lives. When they packed up and moved from one place to another, the first task in the new location was to make a fresh flame. Sometimes they even carried a burning coal with them, coaxing it back to life. This hearth and their kin sitting around it was home, wherever they were physically.
I was struck, for the first time, by the thought: perhaps ‘home’ isn’t a place but a feeling—a sublime sensation of being calm, alive and connected all in the same moment. Of being fully present in one’s skin.
I wondered if it was a coincidence that I felt that sensation when staring into flickering flames and burning embers. Was it something primal that lived at our core? Perhaps even the ‘something’ I had been searching for. I realised in that moment that I felt home in Argentina and I was over a thousand kilometres from my birthplace.
Why did I find my home in Argentina?
I have thought about this a great deal over my ten years living here, and I think it’s because Argentines really cherish the things that fuel that sensation. Family and friends are core elements to them, fire and food too—steaming meat over hot coals; the ubiquitous asado. I feel that in many countries in the world things are changing so fast, and we are drifting apart; we are slowly losing connections to our family and our tribe. Families eat together less often; people spend so much time working to earn more in order to live well and spend more, that they hardly see the people close to them and even less their extended family; we allow, without realising, our connections to stretch until the fibres are pulled cotton thin or break completely.
I think part of the problem is that we are taught to become independent too young, and then we stay alone, or pair up, vainly hoping that that will be enough. I have seen, over the years, so many people struggle with this. And too many people desperately shove things into the void, a fruitless attempt to fill space they don’t fully understand for what it is—a loss of place.
I believe now, that if someone possesses or discovers that ‘sensation of home’, they can take it with them—a living coal close to the soul—wherever they go. And they can build a new one wherever they find themselves. To do this, most people need people. They need them to help feed this vital coal, to keep it lit. We are social beings, we are meant to be part of a tribe. Of course tribes are different now, as distinct as fingerprints. They can consist of only family and relatives or they can be made up of totally unrelated people or people with similar loves, and they can include beloved pets!
The world might have changed, but the need for a tribe of our own hasn’t.
I’m lucky that I now have a curious tribe of wonderful people around me. We sit around the hearth and we eat and laugh and can be ridiculous, freely. We are also there to hold each other when sadness tugs or strength slips.
For me, ‘home’ is a hearth with my loved ones sitting around it—like it was thousands of years ago.
What does home mean to you?
By: Jessica Talbot
Jessica was born in New Zealand. When she finished her Master’s degree and a post-graduate degree in clinical psychology, she moved to Australia. After working as a child psychologist in Melbourne, she followed an old prediction and flex to Peru. The adventure that turned into a book began in the lofty Andes – with a tattoo and an Argentine surfer! She has been lived in Buenos Aires for the last ten years, a home she shares with her wonderful husband and bright-eyed son.
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