“In contrast to how a child belongs in the world, adult belonging is never as natural, innocent, or playful. Adult belonging has to be chosen, received, and renewed. It is a lifetime’s work.” – John O’Donohue
“As you grow, you develop the ideal of where your true belonging could be – the place, the home, the partner, and the work. You seldom achieve all the elements of the ideal, but it travels with you as the criterion and standard of what true belonging could be.” – John O’Donohue
Where do I belong (?), Where is home (?), is a deep and ongoing search for many of us, and an ongoing discussion in our house these days. Who, What, and Where do I belong? For those of us who have been uprooted and moved multiple times from our places of birth, and of childhood belonging, it becomes harder at times to define what home means. Where we feel most comfortable. Where we belong. Do we belong where our family is from? Is there even a place? Or is a feeling? Is it people? Is it where the heart is, as the cliché goes? Or are there many places and spaces that we can and do belong to, and call home?
I have vicariously traveled along with these past two weeks as my brother has taken his adopted young children back to visit their country of birth. Having not yet had the chance to speak with him about this I can only imagine from my own perspective what this may be like, the many differing emotions and thoughts that have arisen. Even in ones so young. And for the parents, how we all wish to provide stability and safety for our children. Have them feel completely at home within themselves, and within the home we hope to make for them.
My own children have recently moved continents and countries away from their own country of birth. A place they’ve called home. They all three have differing perspectives on what being at ‘home’ is. There is attachment to place, to people, to land, to friends, to family, to house. Sometimes home truly is where the heart is, where family is. But at other times the heart also needs a physical space, a physical space that says “this, this is where I belong”.
As a child growing up with a somewhat ‘gypsy’ life far from where I was born and where I had extended family, and having never really lived close until recently to my own historical family, I know this feeling all to well: the constant journey and search for belonging and being home. The paradoxical longing for the open road, for the adventure and excitement of new discoveries set against the yearning for a place to rest, to belong, to be known and unconditionally accepted.
The recent sale by my cousin of my grandparent’s house in the small village where I was born has unexpectedly thrown this sense of searching for belonging, for home, and unconditional space of being, into stark relief again.
I have no memory of my grandfather who died when I was just 21 months but he lives very prominently through the stories my father has told. My grandmother I remember well, often found seated at her kitchen table, and whom I loved to greet first whenever we visited. I vividly recall the sensation and smells of rushing up the winding stone marble staircase, once the door had been buzzed open, entering at the ground level, past the basement where as a small child I remember the potato harvest was stored and the pig was housed through the year until slaughter time at year end, past the first floor with living rooms with coal furnace, kitchen, and my aunt’s and uncle’s bedroom to the top floor and the small apartment my grandmother inhabited. Somehow to see her smile and fold me in her arms felt like being home again. I loved nothing better than sharing her bedroom at night in the twin bed alongside hers snuggled under the overstuffed feather duvet while I watched her brush out her long grey hair; retie it in a plait for the night and which she wore in a bun through the day. The first thing I asked always on arriving was what task I could do for her and very soon without fail would be happily racing off to the store across the road to buy some buttermilk, content that I was ‘once again at home’. With her I always felt I was enough, no matter how I showed up, I suppose that is the essence of belonging, of feeling at home, and an unconditionality of being that is accepted with love and kindness. My grandmother, despite her complex nature, was for me the epitome of kindness and compassion. Now that the house is sold, and 600 years of family history in that house and village is let go of, it is harder to hold onto this innocent childhood “place of belonging, of home”, I wonder if it even is a place anymore, or only held as a childhood memory? Perhaps as John O’Donohue implies it is time to examine with new eyes the adult sense of belonging that continues as a lifelong journey and a lifetime’s work, and a story for another day.my ‘home’ village in the 1950’s
What does belonging and being home mean for you?