Where the heart is. Home. Late last summer my mother-in-law tripped walking up the concrete stairs just outside her home. Instantly she knew something was wrong. An innocent trip became the tipping point for a major and significant life change. Her fall against the step resulted in a slight crack in her tibia just below her knee. Although a seemingly minor break, she would spend the next two months in a rehab facility before moving into assisted living. Unable to bear weight, in a wheelchair she never returned was able to her return to her home of more than sixty years. She slowly recovered and is learning to be comfortable with the steadiness a walking stick from REI provides. In November the house sold and shortly thereafter my husband’s parents moved into an independent living unit.
The day after Christmas my family walked through the house that had been home for us and for my children. My son, Philip wrote this reflection when it was time to say goodbye,
“I know that in life you’re not supposed to take things for granted, but I took this house for granted. My grandparents house has been, realistically the most constant thing in my life. It’s always been there. And on the day after Christmas its will not belong to my family. New people will inhabit it, the memories of my family won’t exist to these people. They won’t know how the smell of that house makes me feel like I’m being enveloped by a warm blanket. The sound of my grandparents clock chiming on the quarter hour, half hour, and hour. The people that filled that house for my grandma’s annual Christmas brunch, friends of theirs who are gone now… A house of memories. A house of warmth. A house of love. A house of friendship. A house of tradition. A house of family. I’m not afraid to say I lament the sale this house. I wish it were going to stay in my family for generations to come, but that’s not the way of things. To me this house deserved us and we deserved it… It was always there for my family and hopefully it will always be there for another. I hope they respect it, I hope they like how it smells, and I hope the furnace room scares their kids.”
Gill Valentine in his work on Social Geographies: Space and Society reminds us that our homes are much more than a residential address. In the comings and goings of morning awakenings, meals at the table or on the run, evening quiet (or not so quiet) we begin to recognize and form the depth of connection. Something happens within us, “our homes—perhaps more than any other geographical location—have strong claims on our time, resources and emotions.”
I felt that claim this week. I traveled down to Portland for a workshop. Not wanting to get up and on the road before 5:00 a.m. I took advantage of a more leisurely three-hour drive (well sort of, it rained pretty hard) the day before to visit with my sister and brother-in-law, Pat and Karl. Karl, with colon cancer is my one of two brother’s-in-laws receiving chemo. In our conversation that day there were two references to my dad. He has been gone for twenty years and yet in that conversation I yearned for home, for the familiar sights and sounds. I yearned for my parents. Home in this sense extends to the roots well established and in some respects roots that still remain in West Linn, Oregon. My dad was a mill foreman for Crown Zellerbach Paper Company. I had to once again see the place where he worked. To see again the Willamette River that was such a part of my growing up years. Roots provide us with a place to belong. Home in this sense provides and helps to form identity and aids in creating meaningfulness. “It is somewhere we feel we belong, and to which we return. Indeed, the home often becomes a symbol of the self.”
In the June 2015 issue of Runner’s World magazine Mark Remy writes of the listlessness he has experienced since making a planned move from Pennsylvania to Portland, Oregon one year ago. Being a runner and making your living as a writer about running it might seem surprising to admit that you no longer feel inspired to run, but that is what Remy confesses. The adjustment was more than east to west coast, it was in all manner of things – where to go for coffee, new neighbors, new places to shop, new places to go to. It took planting a dogwood tree for Remy to ask his own lingering question, “How long before it [the tree] stops feeling like a transplant and starts feeling like it belongs?” Remy realized that what he no longer had were those things he had taken for granted – friendships, familiarity, accountability. He discovered (thanks to Colorado State University) that transplanted trees need up to three years before they are fully accumulated, during that time you are encouraged not to prune the tree, allow it to grow and develop without restraint.
I watch as my in-laws adjust to loss and find how to live within a much smaller space. There has been the discovery that home can change, that the “idealized meaning” may not be a reality or even one that lasts forever. Sometimes amid change the dynamics of family life are more clearly seen. “The home is the key site where spatial and temporal boundaries in relation to domestic and public space are negotiated between household members.”
There is another side to this, something I recall as I returned to my roots this past week. One of the places I returned to was the Willamette River. What I saw was different and yet so familiar. What I am reminded of is that we can hold the memory of the past, even the unpleasant ones with grace and mercy. It takes work; I know it is not easy for many. Yet this sense of “home” – of belonging has not left me, all these years later.
As I reflect upon this I wonder what the sense of “home” might mean for those that have left the Church. Has belonging been severed? What has been the impact of spatial boundaries? Did they sense any difference in how one might be received in a public Church space and how that might have been “negotiated” in other church spaces? What has happened to identity? What has happened to belonging? If home is where the heart is….
 Mark Remy, “Transplanted” in Runner’s World (June 2015): 24.
 Valentine, 85.
 Ibid., 92.