Monday, January 30, 2012

Going Home

Home. It's wherever we hang our hats. It's sweet. It's a man's (or woman's) castle. Charity begins there. It's where our hearts are. It's wherever we hang our hats. And there are about as many versions of what it means as there are people.

For me, the word home conjures up different things, depending on the context. If I'm talking to someone else (at least most other people), "home" right now, is a house in Oklahoma where my husband, kids and I live at the moment. I would guess that's most people's definition of home--where they park their physical body and their stuff. Now, I like my house, and I love my family, but I have a hard time thinking that's all there is to "home." I've always had a place to live, and I've always had a family, but a lot of times, I haven't felt at home.

I used to have a little plaque someone gave me that said "Home is Where Your Story Begins." If that's the definition, I suppose most people would think of home as where you grew up and started your life. For me, that's not the case. I don't view my former haunts around Denver, Colorado, as home, even though I spent the vast majority of my life there. I left there because I wanted to, and I left behind a version of myself that I don't like very much--one who spent a lot of time on stuff that didn't matter much, like a lot of "education" that had mostly to do with going along with a lot of stupid ideas in order to not seem like a kook or a malcontent, and being a lawyer, which had mostly to do with making money.

In many ways, my existence prior to my 40s was much more a prelude than a life. It was the product of careful programming of society that tells you to do what's expected of you and not what makes you happy--to work harder to get ahead, so that you can pay someone to mow your beautiful lawn, and clean your beautiful house, and raise your beautiful children--since you don't have the time for all that foolishness, you're busy working to get ahead. So, yes, Denver was where my story began, but that's not home. I'm not that person any longer.

Some people would say that home is the place that you most want to be--where you feel most comfortable and part of something. By that definition, my home is a little town in northwest Iowa, where in my 40s, for the first time in my life, I finally had the guts to do what I wanted to do, and not what I thought I was supposed to. My decision to do that caused both admiration and consternation in people who knew me. Some said that running off to the boonies was a waste of my education and training. Some said they wished they had the courage to do the same. Some said I was just nuts. To all of those--maybe, but that was the closest I'd been to "home" in my life up to that point. And until recently, I thought it was that town and the people in it who made it feel that way.

But over the New Years' weekend, I had another spiritual awakening. I went on a road trip with my daughters and my friend back to my little Iowa "hometown." And on the way, I learned a bunch of important stuff (see my post titled Tea, Strippers, and Tie Dye for details), the gist of which is...if you want to be happy, do whatever it takes to really enjoy the stuff you're going to do anyway. And that's when I got within shooting distance of my new definition of home.

Home has to be more than where you live, or where you came from, because what if both of those places are not what you'd like them to be; are you then homeless? No, can't be. Home even has to be more than a dream of where you want be. What if you haven't yet found that place? Or what if you can't be there? I know there's more to it, because over the last several years, wherever I've been physically, I've felt like I've been getting closer and closer to home as I staged a coup to take over my own life.

Quitting my law practice and getting off the hamster-wheel lifestyle in the Denver burbs was a big first step. Taking my family to that tiny town where people know each other and wave at perfect strangers was the next. Shutting down the confounded TV machine, through which we are told a thousand times a day that we need to look a certain way, buy a boatload of stuff, and act like complete idiots to 'fit in,' was still a third. Learning who I am, really, and what matters to me, without listening to all the messages from the external peanut gallery, really got me rolling. Starting to take care of myself, quitting smoking and starting to eat right and exercise--took me further down the road. And then, for the past couple of years, learning to take with a large grain of salt just about everything that is "common knowlege" and starting to think more critically about what is (and what is not) got me right into the neighborhood. My aforementioned road trip weekend taught me how to be happier without changing a single thing about the world outside me--and got me so tantalizingly close to my new "home" that I felt like I needed to find a parking spot and start looking seriously for the address.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I listened to a lecture about spiritual growth, and in it was recommended a kind of ritual where you visualize being "safe in the arms of God." It referred to an inner knowledge that everything is as it should be--notwithstanding all the chaos and craziness that passes for a world right now. And suddenly I had it. Home is indeed where your heart is, but not in the sense we always think.

In native American lore, the turtle is a very honored creature. The tradition is that a turtle is at home, wherever it is--it carries its home with it. When stuff around the turtle gets crazy, or it needs protection, it goes inside itself, within the protective shell of it's own making, where all is calm and safe, and distinctly turtle-ish. That's where all my lessons have been leading--not back to my roots in Colorado, not to my adopted hometown in Iowa, and not to where I am now, but to a place of calm and safety inside that I carry around wherever I go.

I suppose that's why I've had so much cause to change myself in the last decade or so--I was remodeling before I moved in. And, you know... it still needs a little dusting, or maybe some new curtains, but it's looking pretty good inside myself right now--the kind of place I could call home.

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