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A Loving Foundation
A house can reveal the extent of your assets, but a home reveals the expanse of your heart. Surely some dwellings are grander than others and some neighborhoods more desirable, but a home is judged by different standards than a house is. A house or apartment gets points for being spacious and well groomed, a home for being relaxed and well loved.
Under ideal circumstances, everybody would have a home like this. We would all realize that as unique representations of life itself, we have no choice but to express this identity in creative work, exuberant play, satisfying relationships, and inviting homes. But because most of us are not convinced that we are quite this splendid, we look around to see how other people construct their homes and their lives-assuming that they know what they're doing, even if we don't. It's like a schoolchild copying from someone else's test paper: She sacrifices her integrity and may get the wrong answer anyhow.
In reality, we all have within ourselves a blueprint for just the home that will shelter our spirit. This blueprint doesn't deal in design and dimensions; it is the plan for home as a spiritual construct, or that homey sense of safety and belonging that can come with us from house to house and from one phase of life to the next.
Home by this definition needn't be confined to a specific building or set of circumstances. It is less a location than an intention. This is an important concept to grasp: When one or two or several human beings inhabit a place, it takes on an added dimension. It is still a brick house or a two-bedroom condo, but it is alsosomeone's home. On the physical level, when a building is left to its own devices the natural principle of entropy, gradual decay, takes over. When people live there, this can be reversed; the structure can be preserved, altered, improved upon. In a more subtle way, people put energy into a place, an energy that can be felt and identified. When this energy is warm and welcoming, you can't help but want to pull up a chair and stay a while, whether you're sitting in your own living room or visiting someone else's.
The desire for this kind of environment is pervasive. Manufacturers of furniture and household fixtures count on it to sell their products, and decorating magazines depend on it to sell subscriptions. When we move from one place to another, we expect to find this ambience in the new residence, or bring it with us.
In addition, most of us have some mental image of the "perfect" home and its inhabitants. When this ideal is truly our own, a faithful replica of our inner blueprint, it gives us something to strive for in creating and maintaining homes that both serve and express us best. In many cases however, too much of our model comes from outside ourselves , from society and media, and we end up with a prepackaged image, a sort of clip art archetype that most real-life homes have no chance of matching. My adopted image of home and family was the generic model, including two parents, two kids, a white picket fence, and a Border collie in the weed-free front yard. It's picturesque, but I don't live there. To favor the fantasy over my actual home was to sell short both my home and the life I live in it.
The happiness of home is not reserved for only one kind of person, one type of family, or one time of life, as the vignettes at the end of this chapter attest. The people in these households live different lifestyles and see the world in different ways, but they all understand that home is not the sole province of architects and other professionals; it is, rather, a design of nature. Even wild animals construct homes for themselves. Making a home isn't a matter of passing muster and following someone else's rules. It is declaring who we are in the place that is ours to do it.
What is the ideal home in your imagination? Do you live in a home like that? Does anybody? If something in your actual home seems missing, what is it-a partner, a child, a house instead of an apartment, a big house instead of a small one? There's nothing wrong with wanting any of these, but between desire and fulfillment there may be days or years of living. If you believe that having a "real home" depends on someone or something you don't have, you deny yourself much of the joy available to you in the home you have today. Wherever it is and whoever, if anyone, shares it with you, you do have a real home, and the option of making it even more fulfilling.
I struggled a lot with the "real home" concept after my husband died when our daughter was four. The word "family" didn't seem to apply to just Rachael and me, even when I factored in the three cats. But in the Chinese language the word jia is used to mean both home and family: Every home is a family, and every family is a home-including those comprised of a single parent, single kid, and feline foundlings. I liked that notion better than feeling domestically disadvantaged.