Thursday, December 06, 2007

Home, Sweet Wherever

One of the staple themes of Christmas "going home." It began with the original Christmas story and the journey of Joseph and Mary home to Bethlehem to comply with the census decreed by the emperor Augustus. Our favorite Christmas carols include "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays," and millions of us will travel - often over great distances - to spend Christmas with our family at home.

But the question for many of us is, "where's home?"

I grew up at a time when people generally had roots in a local area. I spent almost my entire childhood in one house in Pittsburgh, and so I think of the house where Dad still lives as my "home."

But I left home in 1973 for a career in the Air Force, and in the ensuing 23 years, I lived in Denver, Colorado; Bossier City, Louisiana; Wiesbaden, Germany (twice!); Berlin, Germany; Woodbridge, Virginia; and, finally, the teeming megalopolis of Springfield, Virginia. Officially, Springfield is now "home." It's where we own a house (well, not exactly ... it's where the bank owns a house in which it lets us live as long as we keep up the payments) and where we work. It's not really where we want to live forever, but for now, it's home.

Things aren't the same for our children. Both of our sons were born in Louisiana, and our daughter was born in Germany. The boys now live in Ohio and California, and our daughter lives in Manassas, Virginia. Agnes was born in Germany, too, and lived in several places before following me to the States. We've all lived a footloose military family life in three- or four-year chunks in many places. For Agnes, and for our children, where's home?

The question applies to more and more people nowadays. As we move around in search of work or in response to job transfers, fewer of us have the chance to put down real roots, to have a place we can definitively identify as "home." The current issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article on this topic by Richard Ford titled, "My Kind of Town," in which he looks at his current "home" of East Boothby, Maine, and recognizes that "I'll never be a native here."

What is "home"? Old adages say that "Home is where you hang your hat" (or where you hang your head), "Home is where the heart is," and "Home is where, when you go there, they have to take you in." The stereotypical mental picture of "home" is the warm, peaceful and loving place where you know you belong and can always find someone who loves you. It's a concept that helps to anchor us in a difficult world.

Of course, it doesn't apply to everyone, all the time. Tens of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines won't be home for Christmas: they will spend the holidays in Iraq or Afghanistan, surrounded by people who at best dislike and, at worst, hate them. Many people will no doubt be stranded by the airlines, spending a large chunk of their holidays sleeping on uncomfortable airport chairs as they cope with overcrowded, delayed, or cancelled flights.

Agnes and I are fortunate. We're home, or as much at home as we're likely to be for the rest of our lives. We're putting down roots, of a sort. "Home" is now Springfield, Virginia - not necessarily the place we want to settle down when we finally retire, but for now, it's home.

As we approach the holidays, sing the songs, buy the gifts, put up the decorations, and mail the cards, think about what it means to be "home," and how fortunate you are if you know where "home" really is. Will you "stay home" or "go home"?

Whatever you do, and wherever "home" is, I hope you have a safe and happy holiday, whether you call it Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, or anything else.

Tomorrow, we'll home in on another topic. More thoughts then.

Have a good day.



John said...

Hometown: Chillicothe IL
Home: Ozark MO

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Hometown: Charleroi, PA
Home: Charleroi, PA

I've led a sheltered life.

La Chanson de Phoenix said...

I was born, raised, and still reside in good ol' Warren, PA, but it doesn't feel like home. The house I grew up in is up for sale, and I have no intention of buying it (if I could, that is).

Where is home for me? Australia. I have never felt more at home than I did there.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

There is a big difference between home and the house where you live.

Amanda said...

I'm always having trouble answering where 'home' is. As you know, I have several.

But for Christmas and Chinese New Year, my 'home' is wherever my family is gathering. This is usually in Ipoh, Malaysia. There will be no gathering for us this Christmas though so I've decided to have a materialistic Christmas in Kuala Lumpur....SHOPPING!