Another Look at Home and Relationships

The question arises in me periodically—or, maybe, it always crouches in the back of my mind: Where, or what, is “home?” In a mobile society, the concept that home is the place in which one was born applies to fewer and fewer of us. Even if we spent our formative years in one place, the likelihood that family members and friends will remain there after we reach adulthood diminishes by the day. And, even if we abandon the idea of home as a place and, instead, consider it a tight-knit web of  people close to us, home tends to dissolve into vapor. The cluster of people who once defined what we called home disappears as its members grow apart—emotional bonds shred or family and friends become physically distant from one another. Or both.

No matter that one might “permanently” settle in a new place and establish a new cluster of friends. No matter that a new family grows to supplant the closeness of the distant original. That original home, for most, is a memory at best. The idea that home is and will always remain either a place or a clot of people (or both) to which we will always have ready access is a fantasy. Close emotional bonds stretch until, finally, they break. Efforts to repair the damaged connections can never replicate the original. Many reasons may explain the impossibility of reconnection. Sometimes, links to the past feel like manacles. Or the substances of which the bonds were made have become extinct. Or time and experience have so altered them that the attachments are no longer sufficiently strong to keep them together.

Whatever the reason for the inability to revisit home, that loss leaves a person feeling a hollow sense of homelessness. Nothing can replace the sense of intrinsic belonging, once it is gone. We can lie to ourselves, claiming we have found a new place to dwell; a comfortable physical place in which our emotional connections with people who matter equal or exceed the original home. But there always will be an emptiness—a fragile cavern that can be neither filled nor extracted—to remind us that our home is irretrievably unreachable. Thomas Wolfe understood that reality, I think. He expressed that truth, in the form of his posthumously published book, You Can’t Go Home Again. 

You can force yourself to try forget the loss of home. But no matter how hard you try, the inescapable truth of its loss occasionally comes to visit. When it does, you recognize you do not really belong anywhere, because the place you once belonged no longer exists. You realize you are no longer tethered to people or place. You float in a void. You have no means to steer yourself, nor any way to land someplace to which you can be permanently affixed. You always will be subject to being dislodged and sent aimlessly back into space, hoping to find another connection which can, at least for a time, become a surrogate for home.


When I woke this morning, I saw that I had received, sometime after midnight, a text message from a friend. She and her husband may be passing through Hot Springs Village next week, on their way to places beyond, and wondered whether I might be available to visit with them. I have not seen her since I retired in 2011. I saw her husband (also a friend) once, just a year or two after I closed my business, when he treated my late wife and her sister and me to dinner during a visit to Boston. I hope their visit comes to fruition. I would love to see them and learn about how their lives have progressed in the twelve years since I saw her. In light of my contemplation about home this morning, I wonder whether changes in them and in me might have changed the complexion of our casual friendship. Both of them were members of an association I once managed. We saw once another only occasionally, a few times a year at most, in those days. I will not let my overly-contemplative mood this morning spoil my enthusiasm for seeing them, though. I will groom my excitement, instead.


Yesterday morning’s heavy rain turned into clear, blue skies in the afternoon. High winds swept the rain away, scrubbing the sky and leaving a pristine atmosphere. This morning, a thick fog has reclaimed control. According to the weather prognosticators, the temperature might reach 74°F today, before sliding back down to the mid-60s with rain late this evening. My drive to and from Little Rock (where I will undergo two MRIs) today should be reasonably clear and comfortable. The MRIs are intended to disclose, if possible, the causes of some extremely annoying pains in various joints (especially my right clavicle and right shoulder). I am not putting any money on the likelihood that the resulting images will reveal anything definitive.


Appointments with doctors and other healthcare professionals are taking too much of my time lately. They interfere with my desire for freedom to spontaneously decide to take day trips or otherwise behave as if I had no claims to my time. Aging, though, brings with it the begrudging wisdom to permit infringements on one’s freedom, if those intrusions have the potential of keeping one healthy (or returning one to health). If I had realized, as a younger person, just how valuable one’s healthy body really was, I might have taken better care of it But probably not. Because I was invincible and could not be persuaded that I was not.


Enough musing for now. I will abandon this mental spillage for something more interesting and engaging.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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