Home. What is it? A building, a place, being within rather than without? I don’t know, but I’m interested in examining the concept. I believe the time is right to unravel the meaning of ‘home’ for our changing times. Why?

Because if we don’t, then I believe the rebuilding which follows the pandemic will entrench today’s problems and inequalities; making all that is wrong with today the foundation of all our tomorrows, and providing even less recourse to remedy.

The novel Coronavirus still dominates our lives on the brink of a new year.

Spirals of inequality spin centrifugally faster and more furiously.

Environmental crises loom larger than ever.

Britain has left its union with Europe, adrift at a time when it probably needs that connection more than ever.

Questioning ideas of home is a vital act in such a context, because each of these situations shows us what fragile concepts borders and imposed limits are, yet also how these can define ‘home’.

Perhaps by seeing with fresh eyes we can reaffirm for ourselves the values we hold dear so that their magical power can bind us once again?

For that to happen we need to step outside ourselves.

“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”

Warsan Shire

The meaning of home

Imagine yourself as a child for whom home is a place so profoundly familiar you don’t ever have to notice it. You have a deep kinship with almost everywhere in the neighbourhood you grow up in, only experiencing the sense of things being somehow alien or different when spending a night away from it … that’s when, perhaps for the first time, you see ‘home’ with fresh eyes.

Is there something in the experience of departure, or arrival, which brings into sharper relief what home is? Is home’s boundary defined by knowledge, or the limits of what you are supposed to know.

“We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.”

Alain de Botton, The Architecture of Happiness

For many, home is a refuge, a place where they can recharge, receive validation, nourishment and rest. Everything from a recipe to the resulting dish, the flavour of ‘home’ and a taste memory.

I’m a product of a partition forced upon a land which did not want it, resulting in millions becoming uprooted, causing the largest human migration in history, and social destabilisation on a scale which would take decades and generations to recover from, if indeed there has been recovery at all.

Yet most people within Britain have no idea of this vile act carried out in their name, even less of the consequences, or why it matters that it came after 300 years of looting, despoliation, and cultural destruction.

I was not born in that divided land; how could I be? I was born elsewhere, a land not of my ancestors. I was born polyglot.

Growing up, I learned and spoke several languages, English being just one of them. Travel was not uncommon. Home was defined by the people around me; by their experiences, world views, diverse philosophies, and influences. My working life has also been marked by a rich variety of work disciplines, places, environments and people.

Together, these factors osmotically transmitted the idea that borders are permeable, that knowledge is transmutable, and that human experiences, while constrained by the conventions of good manners and necessary moral fixities, are also there to be discovered.

“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”

Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

Living in our analogue and complex human world, home becomes a multi-layered idea. There is no digital, or binary, on/off, idea of home, returned to at the click of a button.

The borders of home are defined as much by the excitement of possibility as the limits of what is believed to be true, and therefore immutable.

Transgenerational trauma is the echo in the bone of those generations born of enslaved ancestors, or World War Two holocaust survivors, or born of those generations which experienced the horrors visited on Korea, Cambodia, India, Kenya, South Africa … it’s a long list.

“I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and the dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.”

Maya Angelou, Letter to my Daughter

But the echo in the bone is much more than trauma, it is also resilience, stoicism, ingenuity, a capacity to reinvent, to imagine, and to enjoy.

As we stand on the brink of a new age whose limits are defined by disease and division we also carry with us the echo in the bone of something richer, wider, and deeper; a world where possibility is treasured, because of what it might bring or enable us to see.

“Without leaps of imagination or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all is a form of planning.”

Gloria Steinem

So, to allow ourselves that possibility – that dream – we also need to give ourselves time free from the fallouts of hardening borders, governments intent on stoking culture wars, and those who who seek to gaslight us.

How we use this time is what matters.

We should look back.

By looking back, we can understand the hurts of the past, atone, make amends, and plan forward to a better future.

In this context and dimension, as a conscious choice, home becomes the world of human possibility rather than the retrenching of its limits.