It was such a lovely evening yesterday and I was feeling so lazy that I couldn’t bring myself to spend much time in front of the computer. But today, I want to get back to E. Relph’s book, Place and Placelessness.
To have roots in a place is to have a secure point from which to look out on the world, a firm grasp of one’s own position in the order of things, and a significant spiritual and psychological attachment to somewhere in particular.
And where else can a person feel more attached, more rooted than at home? When you were a kid did you ever write your address out with your room, your house number, your street, your city, your state, your country, followed by Earth, the solar system, the Milky Way, the universe? I did. It was always nice to know that no matter how vast the universe I had a place in it even if it was so very small.
Home is the foundation of our identity as individuals and as members of a community, the dwelling-place of being. Home is not just the house you happen to live in, it is something that can be anywhere, that can be exchanged, but an irreplaceable centre of significance.
If we are lucky, and there are many who aren’t, we have the chance to grow up in a home. My parents still live in the home I grew up in and even after I no longer lived there for years I’d still refer to it as home. Not until I felt that I had created a home of my own did I stop referring to my parents’ house as home. Now my home is in Minneapolis and when Bookman and I talked about the possibility of moving somewhere else a couple years ago neither of us wanted to. It’s not that we love our house and garden so much, we do, but it’s that we feel this place we live, this neighborhood, this city, is home. We have put down roots that run deeper than we expected and the thought of digging ourselves up was rather distressing.
Although in our everyday lives we may be largely unaware of the deep psychological and existential ties we have to the places where we live, the relationships are no less important for that. It may be that it is just the physical appearance, the landscape of a place that is important to us, or it may be an awareness of the persistence of place through time, or the fact that here is where we know and are known, or where the most significant experiences of our lives have occurred. But if we are really rooted in a place and attached to it, if this place is authentically our home, then all of these facets are profoundly significant and inseparable.
Bookman and I didn’t move to Minnesota planning to stay. It was temporary. We had no plans for where we wanted to go afterwards, but we didn’t think we’d be here for more than five or six years. Now and then we’d say things like, “when we leave,” but the leaving never happened. We liked it here. We made friends. We got to know the area and the culture. We bought a house. But even when we bought a house we didn’t think of it as being permanent. Not until two years ago when we finally had a real discussion and realized that this place was home, not just a place we liked living. I think we were both surprised about how deeply we felt about it.
Is home always perfect? No. Do I still dream of living in London or a farm in Vermont (even though I have never been to Vermont)? Sure. Sometimes home feels dull and too close, usually in the middle of winter when it’s -10F (-23C) with a “brisk” wind making it feel another 10-15 degrees colder and I have to get up and go to work, but this, says Relph is normal.
Drudgery is always part of a profound commitment to a place, and any commitment must also involve an acceptance of the restrictions that place imposes and the miseries it may offer. Our experience of place, and especially of home, is a dialectical one — balancing a need to stay with a desire to escape. When one of these needs is too readily satisfied we suffer either from nostalgia and a sense of being uprooted, or from the melancholia that accompanies a feeling of oppression and imprisonment in a place.
I feel very lucky to have found someplace that I can call home and that Bookman calls it home too. For the longest time we were both willing to throw it all over for a big unknown. I think our culture encourages this. We need to be mobile and willing to move anywhere. Buy a house we are told, everyone should, but it is an investment and nothing more (maybe not so much these days). But if you really want to get to know a place and make it home, a person can’t really be moving all the time. Place-making and home-making take time and commitment (whether you realize you are committed or not). It is a shame that placelessness/homelessness is not uncommon. Everyone should have someplace they can feel at home. It is so very human, and, I think, so very necessary for our personal and communal well-being.
Dorothy said it best, there’s no place like home.