This quote, the opening line of a poem by Emily Dickinson, speaks volumes. Depending on how you emphasize thou makes all the difference in its meaning. Try it: where thou art, that is home versus simply, where thou art, that is home. Until Pat died, I always thought of it being said like the former.
He often used to say, “I don’t care where we live as long as we are together.” I believed that although I know his heart was always in Athol. He loved the river and the landscape, the people and the quiet. He truly found himself there and it is very fitting that he rests there.
When my mom was still alive I often donned my rubber boots and threw a coat on over my pajamas to visit with her on a cool fall evening to talk school and drink tea. My neighbor Catherine was a wonderful friend and confidante. Her light a comfort in the darkness when I was up checking out the neighborhood on stormy nights. Eileen’s perfect white wash hanging on the line and Carrie’s nasturtiums. And of course my Aunt Joan, with whom I have shared a special bond since childhood, my knitting teacher, caregiver, Yahtzee companion, and fellow partner in worry. All of these wonderful, wonderful people, their warmth and love surrounding me, made up my Athol, my home.
Cashmere or Calvary, Degree or Shame, as long as these people inhabited my space, life was manageable and life was good.
But Where Thou art not is Woe. Instead Despair Sires.
And that gradually and so very steadily came to be true. And just as continuous became the plan to build a new life in a new town with a newfound courage and strength. And so too a new definition of home:
Home is not where you are. But it is where she is. It’s unsettled still with only the noises of the night and early morning replacing Catherine’s light. Clotheslines are often a meeting place for some of us, a quick chat or laugh on a sunny day. David’s diamond panel door, John’s truck at 5 AM, and George’s snazzy red convertible have also become part of our routine. And Karin’s flute playing? Well, divine. Thelma and Louise’s clucking? Just heavenly. The neighborhood is alive. The birch trees and the pink church are my leaning posts.
Home is also school with my colleagues and students. A new job has created a supportive little nucleus of three. These people know our story, many have lived it with us; we spend a huge portion of our day, week, and life together. It’s where I am, it too is home, the people my family.
I think it is really important then to honor and recognize the family units that we do have in our life. They may not be the typical members, those we used to find at our holiday table, but I have learned that they are just as important.
When we first moved to Sackville, a year ago, I tried too hard to create a family web to cushion the vast change. Some efforts worked, others did not. I found myself focusing on those that did not flourish as I had hoped. I still do sometimes. It is who I am.
I grew up surrounded by my mother’s family. Cousins were and still are more like siblings. We had suppers together, shared a common wine bottle opener, attempted to rescue each other in times of need and pain, and yes, got put out with each other many times over the years of close family living. But it was wonderful and I catch myself trying to recreate that sometimes. Every street has an Eddie doesn’t it? Or an Aunt Ruth? People share their long, exhausting stories right? Well, no they really don’t, I guess. I have learned to try and keep it short and laugh less hysterically.
If I am being honest, I do sometimes have this fear of being viewed as the merry widow of Clarence Street. I really just want this all to work. And sometimes I am just craving conversation, not through text or zoom, but with a real live person. It’s just not easy sometimes so I tend to overcompensate.
It’s all part of the process of grieving, I tell myself. Go gently, I say. Have faith and believe in the people who are part of your new home and family. Have faith in yourself and Jesus and God.
Home is where you are. No emphasizing. You learn to accept new ways of living. You slip sometimes and befriend those who are not looking for what you are nor understand from where you are coming. And you feel bad about that. I still have a lot of days where I feel bad or disappointed about just that. And then it’s really important to crawl into your small groups of people who know you for you. Or you visit your favorite rug hooking shop, or just sit and talk with your beautiful child while you hook to remember what’s important.
This is important.