Initially published in the Raleigh News & Observer 5/4/2016
From Moses leading the Jews to the Promised Land, to the Holocaust survivors aboard Exodus 1947 seeking Palestine’s port of Haifa, to “there’s no place like home” Dorothy of The Wizard of Oz striving to return to her Kansas home, the archetypal yearning for home resonates in all people throughout human history.
Yearning for home and wanting to “feel at home” is part of our common humanity. “Nevertheless I long – I pine, all my days – to travel home and see the dawn of my return,” said Homer’s Odysseus, while trapped on Calypso’s island (present day Gavdos) during his 10-year legendary odyssey sailing home after the Trojan War.
Throughout recorded history, people have tried to capture the meaning of home. T.S Elliot in “East Coker” said, “Home is where one starts from,” however for many this does not ring true. The well-known quote “Home is where the heart is,” has been attributed to Pliny the Elder. Contemporaries have variously and sometimes whimsically described home such as: “where I can be me,” or “where I can stay in my pajamas all day.”
Speaking of our common humanity, the most striking evocation of our island home is the Blue Marble icon of Earth. It is certainly the most popular image in our history; and is notably without political, cultural or religious boundaries. It’s an authentic photo taken by a real human being, an Apollo astronaut in 1972, holding a Hasselblad camera. And we have not been that far away since to photograph a full-faced image of Earth.
The theme of “striving for home” has figured prominently in my life. Several years ago, I wrote Hestia’s House, a literary memoir with the overarching theme of home. Of the 12 Mount Olympian Greek gods, Hestia was the goddess of the hearth.
Initially my intention in writing my book was the document the Woodstock Children’s Home in which I grew up through high school graduation. As I began to explore this theme of home; I wrote about my childhood, about being abandoned by my parents and made a ward of the state at age 2, about growing up in Chicago and in the children’s home in the sixties.
As I wrote and researched the history of the Woodstock Children’s Home, gathering vintage photos, and interviewing key persons; I realized that the theme of home had a more complex and broader application to my life than just my children’s home experience and my lifelong quest to buy my own home.As a man who over four decades ago underwent gender reassignment (1982), I also resonated with the sense of “feeling at home” in my body and in society.
On the last page of Hestia’s House (2003) I declared: “Now after all this, I am still searching for my external home, and I know I am very close. I think about it all the time. I can see it, inside and out, very clearly in my mind’s eye. I will name my home ‘Hestia’s House,’ after the Greek goddess of the hearth, and if I write this, it will come.”
I had never owned, or co-owned my own home — and neither did my parents. But finally that day came to me. At 58 years old (on March 23, 2010) I became a first-time homeowner, achieving a life-long dream and goal. I bought a modest, “Energy Star Certified” new home in Fearrington Village. I had saved enough to put 20 percent down on a conventional (bank), 15-year mortgage. My credit score was over 800.
For my high school graduation gift, I was given a blue Samsonite suitcase from the Children’s Home; and then I was summarily discharged and dismissed. By court order, my guardianship was released to myself. That suitcase has traveled with me ever since. It is the only thing I possess since from my childhood and is a constant reminder of “where I’ve come from,” and how far I’ve traveled.
Now, I know that one’s real home is not a physical structure, but rather is a state of mind. Whatever the address of Hestia’s House may ever be; it will always be where my heart abides.
In my life and in many examples of literature,” striving for home” is thematic of the psychological odyssey of self-discovery. In this context, T.S. Elliot’s quote is apt: “We shall not cease from exploration /And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time. (“Four Quartets”).
Hestia’s House is not only my physical home. It is a creative, outer manifestation of my soul’s integration and completion. It is both my inner and outer sanctuary, overseen by the feminine spirit, Hestia.
Now dear reader, what and where is home for you?