The consolations of home, wherever that may be

Greg Cusack
"Home" can mean so many things – comfort, familiarity, sameness, acceptance, even "far from the madding crowd."
Greg Cusack

I am writing in response to “Homesickness, a modern luxury we can all afford” (April 1). I have always looked forward to coming home whatever the nature of my being away, even though the location of home was often different.

“Home” can mean so many things — comfort, familiarity, sameness, acceptance, even “far from the madding crowd.”

It is a place where we feel we can truly be ourselves, especially if we are the type of person who feels that he or she must perform in a certain role or manner when in public, like politicians, for example.

It is strange. Although I have a very strong streak of introversion as part of my make-up, all of my adult life I was in public roles.

Unlike extroverts, however, although I did receive some satisfaction from many aspects of those varied roles, I desperately needed to return to “home” — even if that were an hotel room when traveling — to get away from the push-pull of others in order to recharge my batteries. And, wherever I found myself to be then, I would sink into familiar rituals little changed from my youth: the prayers in the Liturgy of Hours and poetry, things which allowed me to sink into the “home” of my heart and spirit.

Many times when I have been troubled or worried about one thing or another, I have closed my eyes and allowed myself to return to my childhood home and its comforting rooms.

I would slowly walk through that house, lingering to rest my eyes on a long-ago object of fondness — such as the table in our dining room where I had spent so many happy hours with now vanished loved ones, or to listen through a half-closed door the beloved voice of my mother as she talked with someone over the phone or sang softly while mending a garment.

The light flowing through its windows was always a tad more golden than the light of today, and I would look out upon the remembered world of my youth, seeing houses and people who were no longer there.

Returning to the now is always a little jarring — and, I suppose, disappointing — but I always come back from that mental journey refreshed and restored. Perhaps nostalgia is partly a consequence of getting older, too. After all, when we are young we have few memories that go back very far at all, and our past is still relatively accessible as most of the key players in our development are likely still around, albeit perhaps a bit grayer and stouter for the years.

Meaningful value

Too, as we accumulate years on our frame we get better (most of us, at least) at discerning what is really of lasting and meaningful value and what is not, and we can locate our initial appreciation of those values in time and place, again granting the past a special place in our hearts.

Perhaps it is a part of my Irish heritage that I have always been a little melancholy, keenly aware of the losses that even small passages of time bring.

I remember once, when I was a member of the Iowa Legislature and engaged in my weekly journey between the capital of Iowa and my hometown 180 miles away, on impulse I left the interstate highway and traveled for a while on back country dusty roads through small towns I had never seen before. I saw more cows than people!

Coming upon a small, old, and rather ill-maintained cemetery, I stopped my car and got out. It was a pleasant, early spring day, with slightly diluted sunshine filtering through very high, thin clouds.

I walked through that cemetery then, noting the varied shapes of the tombstones, and trying to read names and dates. Many — through a combination of age and poor quality of stone — were illegible, at least in part, and others partially or totally toppled by time. I remember coming upon two identical stones and discovering they were of a brother and sister.

Squatting, I read that they were born but a couple of years apart in the mid-1800s. The boy had died young, around 8 or 9 years of age, while his sister had lived into her 90s!

Yet, despite all of that, now they lay next to each other for the rest of time.

I remember experiencing deep thoughts of wonder, sadness, and mystery as I looked on those stones, and I was very aware of my need to walk carefully as I stepped away from them and wound my way back to my car. That was over 45 years ago, and yet the memory is as fresh as yesterday.

And as the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.” I think that is true. One of my consolations — and celebrations, really — is that as other cultures, peoples, and histories have become more known to me, my awareness of home has also expanded.

There is a comfort in being human with all of those living now and with the multiple billions who have preceded us.

The author is a retired US statesman. He now lives in Oregon.

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