“It was the landscape, in other words, of unfiltered experience, of things felt rather than thought through, of the world in its beauty absorbed before it is understood, of patterns and sounds that lodge themselves in some indelible place in the psyche and call out across the years.”*
Wherever we moved in the world I knew three things: We would always drink tea, my mom’s small painting of a New England winter scene would be on the wall, and mom would read to us every night. In moving from Massachusetts to the Sindh desert of Pakistan, my mom was faced with the daunting task of creating ‘home’ and ‘place’ for children who would be at boarding school six months of the year, in a borrowed space for three months in the summer, and ‘home’ for three winter months.
Mom did an amazing job. Some of the things that lodged in my memory were boiling hot cups of chai made with full cream buffalo milk and poured from china cups into saucers to cool off; the smell and taste of hot curry or dahl and rice, making my eyes water and bringing a tingling to my tongue; the sound of my mom’s voice reading books of all sorts to us during winter break; the sound of the call to prayer, echoing in the evening hours. For me these sounds and experiences formed the landscape of my unfiltered experience, my “world in its beauty absorbed before it [was] understood.”
Paul Tournier, a well-known Swiss Psychologist, has some profound insights on place and home in his book A Place for You. He says that to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. We are “incarnate beings” and so when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. If the disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology – Tournier calls this a “deprivation of place.”
In Robynn’s excellent series, I Love Where I Live, she quotes Alicia Paddock, a woman who is studying the idea of sacred space: “Space is an abstract concept and needs an identity, memories and certain behaviors attached to the space in order to change it to ‘place’. “
I think one of the tasks of a parent is to create place out of space. It is a particular challenge for the global parent. Through traditions that are not confined to geographic location, through family memories and jokes, through special items that will always be there, whether they be framed pictures, candle holders, or books, we can create ‘place’. My parents have lived in more homes than I can count, but when I walk into their space, whether it be a 4-bedroom home in the woods of New England or a house with stained glass windows and a 30 foot high ceiling in Pakistan, there are certain things that speak to me of ‘home’, of ‘place’. A small painting of a New England winter, Daily Bread on the side of their table with all their mail, my dad’s desk, filled with books and papers with his characteristic hand-writing — all of this embodies ‘place’, creates a feeling of ‘home’.
Physical space may change more than we might like, but the ability to create place and home is a gift we are given as parents. The gift is given to us so that we in turn may teach our own children how to create place. I have come to believe that it is not the failure of a parent that makes their children want to leave home and create a home of their own, but rather their success. For if we have accepted creating place as a gift, we can exercise it and pass it on to our children. Their homes may look completely different than ours, but it is because of us that they have the freedom to move and create homes of their own.
If we show our children that the world is a mansion, they may well want to explore the many rooms in that mansion before they claim one as their own. Though they may occasionally feel as though they are in exile, people who are stateless and without a home, we can remind them that home can and does move. While a country may be left behind forever, home can be recreated in another land. We have the power to create ‘place’ from ‘space’ and as we do so, it becomes home.
These are some of the thoughts that I have had as I once again explore the notion of home and place. Even as I write, I wonder what memories my own children may have of the many places and spaces that they have called home and realize that with all my heart, I long for those memories to be good.