My great-grandmother had a heart-shaped wooden sign hanging next to her back door that said, “Home is Where the Heart is.” Her home was a blue trailer house that sat less than 100 meters from my family’s white, one-story farm house. Growing up, I ran in and out of her trailer as if it were my own—and it was. The bond between a senior and a child is strong and necessarily special. A life of struggles, love, trials and triumphs, a life mired in wisdom and wrinkled with age is drawn to the newness, the innocence of youth. There are millions of reasons why inter-generational relationships are vital and beautiful, but I’ll let you read more on your own. My great-grandmother had a wonderful soul, and my young heart loved her entirety. When I think of home, she is still in my conscious, hugging me with her strong long arms and whispering “I love you.”
When you think about home, you may think of people, or you may think of a place. Native American poets— the likes of Sherman Alexie, Kimberly Blaeser, Leslie Marmon Silko, Gordon Henry, Joy Harjo, and Natasha Saje—illustrate the importance of both. Connection to people, and to place, are intricately interwoven, and the natural marriage of the two may be the best definition of “home” I have yet to find.
Disconnection, from either people you love, or the place that you love, breeds dissatisfaction, loneliness, and a sense of displacement and uncertainty about the world. When you know a place, or a people, intimately and well, when you feel grounded and rooted not only in the place you are from but in the people you come from, you will feel whole. The poem “Remember” by Joy Harjo, published in 1951, illustrates this better than I ever could:
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Many of us do not understand what it means to feel connection to place. People, we understand. People, we have chemistry with, can communicate with, can love and hate and cherish and despise all at the same time. We rarely feel in awe of a place until its natural beauty astounds us, takes us by surprise. Until we leave the painted cities, leave our square box dwellings and explore the world beyond what we know and see every day. There is a reason we are drawn to the Earth—the mountains, the ocean, canyons and jungles and forests and desert. We did not come from concrete. We were not born from skyscrapers or designed to slouch for eight hours behind computer screens. We were born to be free—to feel the earth beneath our feet, to breathe air that is untainted by smog, to watch the sun set and the moon rise. To feel that this is my sun, and my moon, though they have been here for millennia, have watched my mother live, and her mother die, and her mother’s mother give birth. There is something deeply personal and communal about this realization: we do not own the Earth, yet we are of it.
I hope your home is a beautiful place to remember. I hope it is a place and a people you are still able to find. It may be the place you were born. It may be the place you found love. It may be the person who first gave you love. Home may be more nuanced and complex than any words can possibly convey. If nothing else, rest in the knowledge that you have a home here, right where you are. On this planet we share, in the air you breathe and the space you inhabit and the people whose lives you have touched in myriad ways. Remember, you are all people and all people are you.