Saturday, May 28, 2016


What makes a place feel like home? (And I am not asking for interior decorating tips!) And how long does it take?

My mother has lived where she is now for about fifteen years and I have visited for a week every year. But that house was never home to me. Even though the town was home to my grandparents and to many aunts, uncles and cousins, and I spent many holidays and summer weeks there in my childhood, it was not home except for my first three years. Of course, now it has changed so much that it doesn't bear much resemblance to the town of my memories, although our house on Willingham Road is still there and my grandparents' house is still there. Both are inhabited by strangers. I haven't been inside the house on Willingham since 1953 or in my grandparents' home since 1979.

The longest I ever lived anywhere was on Southwood Drive in Huntsville, Texas. My parents build the house and we moved into it the summer before I started first grade. I lived there all through my school years. I went off to university and my parents and brother moved into our lake house about fifteen miles south of Huntsville. They rented the house on Southwood for a year or two and then sold it around 1970. It passed through several owners, suffered a fire and finally was torn down completely. The houses on either side are still there, and people I went to school with live in them, although they did not belong to their families when I lived there. Where our house stood there is just a seven-acre lot, overgrown with trees and shrubs. I can still make out the long driveway in the Google Earth photo, but that is the only sign. (I know, I expected someone to have put up a plaque,  too.)

I lived in the same dorm at Michigan State for four years, including a senior year in an apartment in the dorm building. But East Lansing was never home. I was at home on the campus, but it was not home. At that time, home was still somehow in Texas. I say somehow because I never considered the lake house to be my home, even though that had become the place I came on holidays and summer breaks from Michigan State. Huntsville was my emotional home, since my best friends still lived there and I worked there when home in the summer.

Once I entered the monastery, I transferred to a new place on average every three years. What made all those places seem like home was that I was home in the larger Carmelite community. The routine of the day would be similar, even the furnishings in my room would be similar to the other places I had been. But home took on a larger and less local meaning. Home might be in East End, Arkansas or Dallas or Washington, DC or Boston or Hubertus, Wisconsin. Any and all.

When I left the monastery and moved to my apartment in Chicago, and later into the apartment I shared with Tom, I felt at home. Chicago was a big home, with lots of places to go and things to do. I knew plenty of interesting people, learned how to work the public transportation system, knew my way around and felt safe in spite of the city's reputation for violence. 

And I felt at home with Tom from the beginning. To some extent, home is where he and the cats are. We lived in the house on Berry Road almost ten years, and that was home. But I never sank deep roots. Tom's roots were already deep in that soil where members of his family had lived for over a century and a half. It was easier for me to pull up and come to Madison than it was for him. I was used to putting down shallow roots.

And here in our apartment, which I do think of as home, I still wonder about home. At some level I wonder how long we will stay here. I wonder how long the state of Tom's health will allow us to stay here. We chose this place over some others because we thought it would provide better long term possibilities, things that will make it easier for him to get around when the pulmonary fibrosis begins to manifest. That may be years down the line. It could be next year. But I don't think of us being here forever.

Home, the cliche has it, is where the heart is. My heart has been in many places physically, and much of my heart is in places I have never been -- with Steve in Nairobi, with Michelangelo in Brooklyn, with  Lee in San Diego.And with some of you in places I have never seen and probably never will.

I guess home can be a very big place.

Which is not a bad thing at all.


Jeremiah Andrews said...

Hello Michael.
We talked of Imagination and Borrowed time tonight.

Illness always forces the patient, and those involved, to reevaluate time, when to do it, where to do it, and how. Been there, done that. Sounds like you are back to "One day at a time." When I can't see the future, sometimes I am not supposed to see that future too far ahead, because it taints the journey to get there. This decision to move, came quicker than you both expected, and turned out quite nicely in the end.

With that said, for both you and Tom, is to enjoy every day doing what you love doing, because you can, not because you must. How long you expect to be somewhere is an unnecessary worry and is counterproductive to sober living. You are where you are for the moment. Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. You are moving but not getting anywhere.

I had a home as a kid, but when I left home at 21, I was on the hunt for home. That did not happen until I got sober a second time, at age 34, and settled in Montreal. The home I wanted, in the city I wanted. Almost fifteen years later, this is home. The one I built with my husband, together. As long as I have him in my life, this is home. Living with AIDS as I do, some twenty two years later, time is a constant worry. And I work very hard not to worry about it.

You said, Home is where ever Tom is. Knowing how the past moved much quicker than it should have, gives perspective on the future. We never know what is coming, so living in the moment will help you stay grounded. You know where you have been, and you know where you are now. Enjoy it while you have it.

God knows what He is doing. Trust Him.

Stay in your day Michael.

Jeremy in Montreal.

Mitchell is Moving said...

Home for me is where I am at the moment. Not everyplace I've lived has really felt like home. And nothing from my childhood feels like home. My mother has been in her current apartment since the family moved there when I was 10. But when I visit twice a year, I'm going to my mother's, not home.

Anonymous said...

Home can be a very big place with many rooms.
I hope your wonderings help you value the moment rather than pm distract you from enjoying it.
Kato xo

Anonymous said...

I just asked my youngest how he would define "home". He said "it's here". Obviously! "Here" is the third house my boys have lived in. I anticipate we will stay here for 10-15 years and then downsize when the goslings fly away. Maybe then I'll feel confused about where home is. But not now.

Michael Dodd said...

I feel the same way: "I'm going to my mother's, not home."

Sometimes I think I am pondering and I am actually slipping into worry. Thanks for the reminder. I like the rocking chair image, BTW. As for worry, I recently heard someone say that if you can worry, you can meditate. Both are concentrating -- the difference is where you put your focus.

Michael Dodd said...

I am enjoying my new home very much. And I like your son;s definition: Here.

I think I mentioned before that I saw a bumper sticker on a car in our complex: "I'd rather be here now." Kind of says it all.

Ur-spo said...

What a lovely post. I concur. Even after ten years in PHX it does not feel like home. I lived in MI for 5 years and I still think of it as home.

Anonymous said...


A delayed comment because I have been out of town (and away from my trusty port) for ten days (enjoyable time though).

I am so sorry to learn that Tom has pulmonary fibrosis. I wish both him (and you) as long a delay in its onset as is possible. All your readers are batting for him and you.