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Home and Hearth

Home and Hearth

We call it the American Dream, the potential to own our own home, preferably with a Detroit muscle car in the garage, surrounded by a white picket fence, and 2.5 kids playing in the yard. Maybe a cat or a dog or two as well. Our homes are our castles, the refuge from all things that beset us in the world. We can have a crappy day at work, our bosses can get on our last nerve, our boyfriend/girlfriend can treat us like absolute dogmeat but we can put that all behind us when we walk through those doors. When we shut those doors, we can turn on the television, grab a beer from the fridge or open a bottle of wine and shut out all the pressure for at least a little while.

Of late our castles haven’t been completely impregnable. We are subjected to sales calls and calls from creditors, pressuring us to pay them what we owe them. Our homes are being foreclosed at a terrifying rate (although, to be fair, the number of foreclosures are beginning to drop somewhat).

We can handle an economic crisis as long as we have homes to go to, and once that stability, that shelter is taken away from us, it becomes much harder to handle the little things. I think that’s why this current crisis is so insidious; it goes to the heart of the psyche of humans, in particular the need for shelter. Take away our homes and we lose much of our stability, much of our sense of self.

Try to imagine yourself as homeless, having to rely on shelters for warmth or relief from the heat, having to carry everything you own around with you. Your self-image is wiped out, you feel like a complete and utter loser. We think of the homeless as those afflicted by drugs and alcohol abuse or some kind of mental illness, but the truth is that not all who are out on the streets are there because of a medical/psychological reason. Many are there because of bad luck; they were “downsized” and were unable to pay the mortgage. Yes, most of those in that situation go live with family and friends but some have nowhere to turn.

There is nothing quite like the feeling of coming home after a long day at work or school. The apartment/home/condo/hut/cottage/caravan/cave is a welcome sight. For me, seeing the glow of lights in the windows at twilight brought on a feeling of contentment that would wash away whatever stresses I felt after a day at work.

We have a need to feather our nests. A dwelling is, after all, a collection of walls, floors and a roof with an occasional window – it’s what you put into it that makes it a home. Our homes are the ultimate expression of who we are, a statement to all who enter it that says “Here we are!” We decorate and yes, much of that is the province of the female in the family who seem to have nest-building instincts in their DNA but as families have evolved, men have taken more of a role in decorating than they have in years past.

It is in the nesting instinct that we see the clearest correlation between our homes and our self-worth. The more we invest in our homes (and I’m not just talking financially), the more our home becomes a part of who we are. There are few things in life more satisfying than undertaking a successful home improvement project, even if you’re paying someone to do the actual work. The sense of accomplishment on home projects is usually far more intense than on work projects, even though the work projects may be more complicated and difficult than, say, painting a room or planting a new garden. Once again, it calls to the basest instincts of mankind.

We do all this to make our homes serene. I’m not talking about creating a Zen temple mind you – I mean the serenity of the household. The home is our refuge and certainly we want at least a part of it to give us the ability of shutting out the noise and stress of modern life, but it is also the place where we build our memories. We raise our children here, make plans for the future (and even sometimes realize them) and enjoy the company of our loved ones. Our homes are the backdrops of our lives.

Now that’s not to say we don’t want to kick out the jams once in awhile. A home is also a place to entertain, to have friends and family over for barbecues, parties, football games, get-togethers or just coffee. Some of our homes are elegant and made for entertaining; some of our homes are modest but still we like to show off our home from time to time. Again, it’s a reflection of our personalities and our souls.

Of course, our homes are never what you would call in pristine condition, or at least hardly ever. Children and pets make for messy houses and with both parents working in many cases, keeping our homes tidy is much more of a challenge these days it seems to me. I know that our own home is often cleanliness-challenged; keeping up with everything our dogs track in, tear up or shed on is often a losing battle. But be it messy or squeaky clean, it is my home, better or worse and it is part of who I am.

Shelter is one of our basic human needs, but homes actually touch a need that is less practical but far more emotional. Our homes validate us, express us and fulfill a need we can’t even put into words. Without our homes, we’re nomads moving from place to place. Without our homes, we lose the comforts. It is the stage where we act out the play of our lives. Losing our homes is a blow to the psyche that is absolutely devastating.

That is why I find the actions of the financial industry so callous and so evil. It is galling that the human toll was never considered when making their measly profits. Taking a person’s home is like taking their genitals; they are giving up a part of their identity.

Our homes are what we make of them. Some take the nesting thing more seriously than others do. Some see their homes as mere shelters, a place to be easily disposed of when the need arises. Most of us, however, invest a great deal of ourselves in our homes. Whether it is a bachelor pad, a college dorm, a mansion, government housing or a ranch house in a middle class neighborhood, we not only live in them but they live in us – in our hearts and memories. That’s not an inconsiderable thing to ponder. Home is, after all, where the heart is.


One Response

  1. I enjoyed reading your reflection– thoughtful!

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