Home: Sweet Home
You can live in a tiny house, a mansion, or even in the woods. Any of these can be a home. Home has a special place in the heart and in the law. Both our idiom of “Home sweet home” and the ideas behind stand your ground defense share their foundation in the specialness of home. Well, what exactly is it? What takes a house and makes it a home? I want to understand the feeling that comes over me when I arrive home. So, searching for answers to this question, I began contemplating what it takes to make a home.
Last year, in early 2022, I was in Hawaii, checking out what it would be like to make a home there. I ditched that idea after a 3-month stint in paradise. Then, in April 2022, after stopping in Tokyo to pick up my belongings, I returned to my hometown Atlanta. As I searched Atlanta for a place to make my own, I lived with my family. During the last few months of 2022, I bought a townhouse; now, I am making it a home. I have come to see these essentials in a home: a sacred physical space, an aliveness, a place of belonging, and a sense of safety.
The Sticks, Bricks, or Stones
Inside the classic American home, there are perhaps two adults and maybe two kids. The family living in the traditional American home and their possessions are the second element of a home. They are the aliveness. Not the number of bathrooms nor the tile backsplash, but the gathered little details of daily life bring a place alive. A house needs activity to be a home. A home is a place that celebrates and supports the lives of the people living there. It is easy to note the absence of homeliness in an austere Airbnb or a poorly staged home for sale. They are spaces without a living, pulsing component. A home’s lived-in-ness is my favorite visual feature of a house. The toiletries, book collection, and mementos bring home alive. Those little lived-in details like an out-of-place coffee mug and family photos make a house a home.
Beyond the physical space and life items in it, two psychological aspects make a house a home. A sense of belonging is the first. This is home where the heart is. The idea that you can be who you are. That mental sense that you belong. Whether in the family or with roommates, that sense of relaxation in your surroundings. A home is where you can be comfortable in your skin. It is a place to recharge your spirit from the trials of life. I think people mean this when they recite “home sweet home.” It is coming, physically and metaphorically, into a place of love.
Take Off Your Boots
The building is in place, life knick-knacks included, a big heartful family is there, the last element to make a house a home is a sense of safety. It is precisely this sense of safety that one seeks in a home. For us humans to thrive, we need a safe place. This desire for safety includes knowing that your things will be there when you return. That people will not hurt you at home. Your home will protect you from the elements. It is a feeling that puts you in a state of calm. You can be at ease if you have normally been hyper-vigilant out in the world. The idea is that you can be in your home without being physically accosted, evicted, or bothered.
In this way, what is unnerving about having your home broken into it is a violation of your sacred space. When I visit my mother’s home, I appreciate her physical space. It is an enormous house. Our family photos remind us of the moments we celebrate. While I sense I belong, there is a strange quality at my family home. But it no longer feels safe. In reflecting on what we lost in the burglary last month, it is overwhelmingly the loss of a sense of safety.
In this feeling, then, I feel united with many other Atlantans. I sense the dis-ease around a family behind on rent. I can understand what it would be like to distrust a roommate. It feels odd to have traveled the world with relatively few mishaps and then returning home to so quickly lose a sense of safety. Beyond my immediate family, I find this loss of safety reflected of our country at large.
Who is Safe Now?
My eyes are open to a very late recognition. So many others live without that sense of security. I did not fully appreciate the depth and breadth of the Black Lives Matter movement. At it its crux, I now understand. The lives of so many Americans do not feel safe. I sense that the response is the growth in the abolitionist perspective. Mutual aid and community organizers are moving on this principle. Last month, `authorities` slashed tents and encampments in the South River Forest of Atlanta. The exact entity charged with the social (but not LEGAL duty) to protect is actively working to destroy a sense of safety in south Dekalb. If we do not feel safe in the American status quo, we must unite to create a sense of security. For me, then, this is the pressing question of our times. If life in the natural order is nasty, brutish, and short (according to Rosseau), where is the golden place where we can belong, be safe, and have the physical space to nourish our life activities?
I absolutely agree that a sense of safety is essential to making a dwelling feel like home and it’s a sad state of affairs when that is lost. One that needs to be addressed as a priority in every community. On a lighter note, you talk about the toiletries AND book collection, but how about the book collection in the toilet! And, in England, not only is home considered to be ‘where the heart is’, but also ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’.