At church this morning, the Vicar preached a sermon aimed at children, but in which adults were included, and talked about ‘abiding’. ‘Abiding in God’s love’, for example. One of the questions she asked hit very close to the mark for me: what is home?

The children said home was where they kept their toys, played, ate their meals, slept, and lived with their parents. (I’m paraphrasing because I didn’t take notes at the time.) Adults added things such as ‘a place to be with your family’, or ‘a place where you are safe.’

One crucial quality was not brought up, and I wish it had been, because it was the word that defines ‘home’ for me. By the time I’d realized what word I would have used, it was too late to contribute.

I was homeless from early January to mid December 2016. I wrote about the experience many times during that year, (the articles are on my website). One in particular, ‘Ghosts’ (15 January 2016) talked about ‘home’ actually being part of our self-image, and a reflection of who we are. Losing a ‘home’ was in a sense losing part of our Self.

During 2016, I had a place to eat and sleep, to keep and play with my ‘toys’ (the hotel television, my laptop, and three books that I owned and read repeatedly during that year) because I lived in one hotel/motel after another. Only one or two friends were concerned for my wellbeing, but many people knew of my plight. All my ‘stuff’ was in storage, miles from where I was, but I had the essentials. I was even ‘safe’ in the sense that I was protected from the elements, and was no more likely to be attacked in my motel/hotel room than I was when I had an apartment. In that sense, I met all the criteria mentioned in church, but I could never think of any of those places as ‘home.’

There have been many places where I could keep my secrets (even create them), shed my tears, create, laugh, play, eat and sleep. There were sometimes places where the smartest thing I could do was keep my back to the wall at all times, and look for an escape. There were even a couple of places where I didn’t have to keep my back to the wall, and where I found acceptance. But they weren’t really ‘home.’

During 2016, I frequently had to worry about food and shelter. If I couldn’t pay the weekly hotel fees, I would be put out on the street. One time, the motel I was staying in actually rented my room to someone else while I was still in it; the same motel had a policy that no one could remain in residence more than 28 days. Staying there—my only choice at the time—was a source of constant anxiety. Of all the people that knew about me, only one or two genuinely cared about what was happening, and usually, helping me meant hurting themselves. Although my exigent circumstances were relieved for the moment, I felt bad about their sacrifices. I still do.

The essential element that was missing, the quality that was not mentioned this morning, was ‘belonging.’

Home is a place where you feel you fit in, somewhere you actually belong. It completes you. It is the place that lets you feel free.

Anywhere—an abode, a job, a church, or a place where you once had a good experience—can feel like ‘home’ if you feel you belong.

Paul TN Chapman
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