During the pandemic when mobility was limited I had to redefine how I thought of home. Primarily because it was inaccurate.
And secondly, because I could only sulk around the confines of the politically drawn borders of Alberta for so long — desiring to be on a plane landing in a geographical location where I could look into the eyes of those who have known me for decades or in many cases since birth — before the voice in my head said: “ENOUGH! It’s time to take a shower, change out of your grey sweatpants and move on with your life.”
And I did.
For the most part.
But the process of moving on involved redefining home. And so (inhales deeply) this is what I have come up with over the past two years.
1. Home is not a concrete noun.
I used to think of home as a dot on the map. A city. A street. A postal code. For example, I live and work in Treaty 7/Calgary, Alberta with my children and my spouse.
But if this is my home, what do I call the place I long to return to?
What do I call the place where my father, mother, siblings, step-siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and childhood friends live and speak in what Canadians would consider an accent and where grits is an acceptable breakfast food?
What do I call the place where my mother had to sit down with me and have a conversation days before we visited family in New Jersey that fixin’ to was not — in fact — widely used outside of the southern US and that y’all wasn’t either?
What do I call the place that I have visited now for fourteen years in the south of Spain? The place where I know that the best coffee shop in town is on the left, just past the town square. And when I see groups of people dressed in bright clothing standing outside the church they are most likely waiting for the bride to appear and when the bells ring a low and monotonous tone, a funeral is being held.
And if those distant places are home, then what do I call the place where I birthed both of my children? One punctually arriving on time, the other requiring a caesarean section when he was two weeks overdue because he had no interest in coming out into this world. (I can’t say I blame him.)
2. You want an easy answer. I want an easy answer. There isn’t an easy answer.
People like neat answers. I love neat answers. When folks ask, “Where are you from? Where do you call home?” they typically expect a one sentence if not a one word answer:
The response to this is not supposed to be, “Pull us a seat—I’ll brew us a pot of coffee and let’s spend the next two hours dissecting this.”
But for those of us who have spent most of our life moving, packing and unpacking boxes, sending email notifications out to all our contacts that our address has changed once again! There is no easy answer.
Home is slippery and transparent. Often shape shifting and grabbing us by the heart when we least expect it.
On a recent trip, driving the stretch of highway from the Malaga airport to my husband’s hometown, I saw the same rolling hills dotted with olive trees that I’ve seen for the past fourteen years. I felt a sense of home wash over me.
At the same time, after a month of travel, standing in the Amsterdam airport surrounded by people waiting in line, I grabbed the arm of my husband.
“Do you see that?” I asked.
“See what?” he asked.
“Canadians.” I whispered back.
Standing in line in the Amsterdam airport I also felt a sense of home or at least homecoming. It’s not anything I could describe. There were no Canadian flags (Thank God. I think we’ve all seen enough of those for the year.) But after passing through multiple international airports, there was a distinct sense of familiarity. Unspoken cultural norms that I understood. A sense of belonging.
Having said that…
3. Home is not the same as nationalism.
I have a difficult time saying, “I am American.”
I also have a difficult time saying, “I am Canadian.”
First of all let’s address the fact that Indigenous peoples were on this land for thousands of years before the white man arrived, stuck a flag in the ground and said, “It’s mine!” So for me to say, “Look here. I’m Canadian! See — I have a passport. It was created by the government… the same government that stole the land in the first place…” seems a bit too much like history repeating itself.
I also feel as though I would fail any quiz that might follow this bold statement of nationality:
You say that Canada is your home. Have you visited Ottawa? Quebec? Victoria?
What do you know about the war of 1812?
When was the last time you watched a hockey game?
Me: Leaves the room.
And there are times that I do not feel particularly inclined to claim Canada (or the US for that matter) as my home. For example, when Trump was elected president or whenever Texas passed any bill whatsoever (or Florida for that matter) those are times I question if I could call a place that loves to hate my home.
As for Canada, when our borders and streets are shut down by white supremacists or when an Alberta curriculum requires Grade 6 student to know the slogan of the Klu Klux Klan, or when Jason Kenny opens his mouth at any given point, I wonder if this is a place that I can claim to be home.
Finally, defining my home by a nation also seems like I am drawing a line where I am safely inside the Canadian border and everyone outside of it is the other. And that’s one of the darkest parts of nationalism. To say: This country is mine. And therefore it is not yours.
4. Home can be a state of being.
Home is more of a state of being than anything else. It’s a place where I can gather around a dinner table and laugh loudly with people who have known me for years or decades and despite that, or possibly because of that, they continue to love me.
Home is a place I can walk around wearing socks and flip-flops and not have to apologise and start conversations with, “do you remember that time…” And chances are whoever I am speaking to will.
Home is smells, sights, sounds, comfort. Home is both past and future. Both time and timeless.
But possible more importantly…
5. Home is safety.
In a recent conversation with Mifrah Abid on Home, Identity, and Nationalism, She challenged my way of thinking of home in the best possible way. She mentioned that home has to be a space where you feel safe.
Mifrah states, “Home is where you feel you have ownership of things. When I say things I don’t mean physical things. Ownership of your choices. Ownership of your identity. Ownership of who you are… It all circles back to, where did I feel comfortable?”
Which leads me to my last point.
6. Home is a privilege.
Having a space where you can safely exist is a privilege. And for those of us who have any semblance of home, shouldn’t we then make it our work to ensure that as many humans as possible can also have that privilege?
Shouldn’t we be doing the work so that those of us who are not safe to walk down the street, or take public transit, or attend school, or worship in a town we have lived our entire lives in because white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and racism are not only tolerated but championed by many of our elected officials will eventually have a place to call home?
Shouldn’t we be opening the doors to all leaving a geographical location most likely arbitrarily drawn up by a colonial power centuries ago due to faith, sexual orientation, genocide, famine, or war?
Shouldn’t we — even as we are still developing our own understanding of what home looks like — say to our neighbours, “Come in. Please get comfortable. Pull up a chair. Let me brew a pot of coffee. And tell me — what do you consider to be home?”