Home is . . .

Home is a strange idea. I know it’s more than just a place on the map but physical location does have a lot to do with ones understanding of home as a concept. I’ve been on the road travelling back and forth to the Isle of Mull a lot recently and have just finally set the builders loose on the work needed to extend and refurbish our ‘second home’. That expression, ‘second home’ still feels alien and sounds so odd to me. Over the last months there has been the gradual, slightly guilty, dawning of the middle-class realisation that we actually have two houses. According to the local council a house is a second home if it’s not your main address and if you can prove you occupied it for more than twenty-five days in any Council Tax year.

From age ten home was something I got to go back to when I was let out of boarding school. It was definitely geographically located where my parents were and it was a place which was familiar – family like. It was always a huge relief to return to the space of my bedroom where the door could be closed and I could be on my own. For a committed introvert boarding school is probably about the least friendly form of education I can think of – there are only communal spaces – dormitories, classrooms, showers, meals all shared with others all the time. No real concept of or allowance for anybody who might need ‘down time’ to recharge. Home was where I spent the least of my time.

After college, when I married, home became and remains wherever Sue is. Initially in Winchester, then later following her around the UK wherever her ministry took us. You do try to make a Manse feel like your home but you do know underneath it all that it is really tied accommodation and you don’t perhaps invest as much of yourselves in it as you might because you know that home will be somewhere else afterwards.

Where is home now? It could be said to have two geographic locations five hundred plus miles and a boat journey apart. One place feels like home already as it was really a return journey and we were able to put our stamp on it quite quickly. Gradually our island home is also beginning to feel like home – beginning to develop that familiar feel.

An old friend once described our home as being like Rivendell – I can’t think of a bigger compliment. I know it’s too simplistic to say that home is a particular house, or a collection of things, or a web of relationships and neither is it simply ‘where the heart is’. To be honest I’m not even sure what it is. It is all of these things and none of them. Perhaps it’s just where you find belonging. I may not have a clear understanding if what home is but I know it when I feel it.  Home is expressed in those physical, emotional and yes, spiritual spaces the heart has been allowed to shape.

Ramdas says that in the end “We’re all just walking each other home”. I do like the sentiment of this but home is also the way stations for the journey now.


Holding Hands

Perhaps it is the way of relationships that they often end in the same way they began. I’ve been processing life for the last few weeks since I sat and held hands with my father as he died. In the meantime, the planet has whirled insanely on without my full attention.

Some of my earliest memories are of my father’s hands, holding on to him as I toddled down the road, being lifted off the small saddle on his bicycle cross bar, helping him prepare food for his aviary of birds, watching him paint and seeing his pottery animal sculptures crafted, painted and glazed.

His hands were kind and gentle, an expression of his person, strong, skilful, warm and trustworthy. Towards the end he was almost totally deaf and incredibly stubborn, the latter a good trait if you are determined to live on your own on a Scottish island. He was housebound towards the end and we were in the middle of sorting out wheelchair ramps and the like when he had what proved to be his final stroke.

He died peacefully in his sleep, without the need for long term residential care or painful illness – for which I am, I suspect somewhat selfishly, grateful. I am by turns overwhelmed and under-impressed with myself and my reactions. I loved him dearly and admired him enormously but I lived over 500 miles and a boat journey away and meaningful communication was often difficult. He hated most modern technology and would have nothing to do with computers, email and the internet. After my brother and mother’s deaths and with increasing age his foci narrowed and his range of conversational topics became limited

Successfully growing up should mean being unlike your parents and I am unlike my father in interests, understanding, career and theology and pretty much everything else as well. None the less I miss his presence enormously it’s as if a restraining influence has been removed from my life. As a child he was the pointer for my developing moral compass and his approval remained an important touchstone of many of my life choices.

His were the first hands to touch me as he helped me into this world – the midwife came late. On that last morning, he squeezed my hand, smiled and pushed it away in a final gesture of farewell. I guess that means I’m supposed to be an independent adult now.