The romanticized, nostalgic idea of there being no place like home tugs on our heartstrings in the clicks of Dorothy’s iconic ruby slippers.
I can’t help but wonder, though, what that ideal vision of home looked like in the minds and hearts of viewers then, and what it looks like now. At the time this chimerical fairytale was originally released as a movie, the world was coming out of the Great Depression and entering the largest and deadliest war in history. Today, the great depression is one of the main psychological disorders in the mental-health awareness spotlight, and we are still waging wars—abroad, at home, and within. These dark societal downfalls seem to harshly clash with a skip down the yellow-brick road toward the rainbow. Perhaps it is this type of dreamy escape within books and movies that gets us through.
Home is a highly subjective term that comes with strong connotations, and I imagine it always has. To begin is to question: is home a place or a feeling? That is a common debate, highly personal, and lends itself to analysis and discussion. I had been reflecting on this age-old phenomenon, myself, not too long ago while spending some alone time enjoying nature at our local national seashore. By alone, I mean there were no humans around. The hermit crabs and sea hawks I spent time with and photographed were excellent company and led me to some deep, relevant reflections.
The hermit crab is known for frequently moving into, and even renovating, different shell-houses. Is it interesting that beyond outgrowing its houses, these changes are suspected to be merely mood-based. These both parallel our own perceived needs and habits. As I observe the crab hiding like a hermit in its house, I wonder if the shell itself makes the home, or if it is more the location, this crab’s environment, this particular bay. Or is what makes the home a home merely the feeling, the mood? Would this crab be just as “happy” in a different shell in a different bay? Does it dream of such things, or is it perfectly content here?
These crabs that were about me, hiding together in driftwood motels, I knew, were not kin. They all separated from their parents at birth, drifting ashore from the sea miles away haphazardly with the rest. They are social, despite their names, but usually solely in their scrambles and negotiations for limited resources. Home to them, beyond the cozy house-shell, cannot stem from childhood homes or memories: life as they know it has always been this, living among large crowds of strangers. They have random sexual relations with strangers and do not stay together afterwards. It is a sad thought to me. It seems home to these crabs are their temporary houses and this familiar bay. But to them, any other place but home would mean death by predators.
After continuing on my walk along the deserted and rugged shore, I got distracted and subsequently intrigued by a sea hawk overhead on its way to its nest.
Now, a nest seems much homier than a temporary shell-house. Osprey also mate for life and raise their young together. The couple will most likely stay here because we are so far south, but most will migrate and return to their same nests afterwards, year after year. Do they have two homes, then, or do they merely go on extended vacations? Home for the sea hawks seems to be location, house, and family. There are many parallels in these shells and nests, between these crustaceans and raptors and us, the sapiens.
One bucket-list retirement dream couples have these days is to sell their house and travel around the country in an RV, much like the nomadic crab and its mobile homes. Another dream for many, long before retirement, is to have a family vacation home, much like the migratory birds. Would the traveling retired couple essentially become homeless? Or would the RV be their home now? Or are they each other’s home regardless of the place they “hang their hats?” Which of a family’s two places of residence would they consider their home? Both? The same would apply to children with different homes outside of the all-under-one-roof nuclear family.
Divorce and remarriage tends to shuffle children to multiple dwellings on a rotation schedule. Do such children, young and adult, feel blessed to have two homes, or do they simply feel homeless and lost when the family splits up, despite the roofs? Oftentimes, the house we grew up in becomes the place we most associate with home, the memories that forever live within those particular walls. Even if we try to pack up and move the memories, carry them inside, there always seems to be nostalgia for that particular time and place: the address seems unable to ever be replaced.
Others would most readily subscribe to the notion that home is where the heart is, completely detached from physical locations. In this sense, if you are with the people you long to be with, you are always home. A lovely concept, except when you don’t have anyone you feel that way with. Oftentimes, we can be surrounded by the people who are technically family members, but we do not feel comfortable among them. Perhaps we are not accepted. Perhaps we are even mentally or physically abused. Sometimes, the worst possible place can be the “home” we are stuck in. As a teacher, I know this firsthand all too well. I am often a mother first and foremost in the classroom. Our classroom, our school, is the only safe and stable environment for those with and without homes serving as mere shelters at best.
Home as the idea of being where the heart is comes with some benefits as well as complexities. It allows those who have lacked that sense of love and belonging another chance, to create and establish as adults their own homes. The fact that only a small percentage of the population chooses to remain single for life shows that this heart theory is still beating strongly. Although hearts can be adequately sustained by other forms of love and passion through human connections and service to others, careers and hobbies we are passionate about and successful in, or even simply caring for pets as family members, home isn’t fully furnished for most without another person to love, to share it with. That leaves more of us homeless for various amounts of time.
There is no question, in my mind, that there still is no place like home. Why wouldn’t there be? Because times have changed? There is plenty of research to show that families in the past have faced many of the issues they still do today, and oftentimes, worse. We may have smaller families, less interaction with extended family, or live farther apart geographically, but we still have homes and ties that bind. It is because these vastly changing times have failed to alter the core of our needs and wants in the notion of a home that no place, then or now, compares. Whether or not we have a home, feel that sense of home, the quest for it drives us outwardly and inwardly. It is still the restlessness in the soul that is universal. This is the phenomena to next explore more deeply. What is it about human nature that calls us home? And do we ever truly and fully find it in this life?
After being scolded by her aunt, Dorothy wondered if there might be a place better than home, but after exploring faraway lands (albeit in dream), she realized the answer. And she showed us that home is a combination of the concrete and abstract: the place we hang our hats and get our hugs, feel most comfortable and reciprocate love. Her home, even back in the early 1900s, was not traditional. But it was whole. A quaint farmhouse, guardians who loved and cared for her after the loss of her parents, a community that acted as extended family and supported her, and even a loyal pet dog.
I think most of us if given the chance to click those ruby slippers would wish to be taken to the time and place that felt or would feel the most like home. The fact that home is where we would choose to be physically and emotionally—in our pasts, in our near futures, in reality, in fantasy, in this life, in the unknown—shows its timeless, universal importance in our collective and personal quests and values. There is still no place like home.
©Laura Denise 1/21/19