What does it mean to be home, to feel at home, to have a home?
I have thought a lot about the concept of home in recent months as I have sought, with the intensity of a scouting leader undertaking a harrowing expedition into unknown lands, to find a home of my own, of our own, in the Bay Area. Or perhaps more specifically, to find a house, a piece of land and a comfortable dwelling that I and my husband could “forever” settle in and call our own.
Buying a house in the San Francisco Bay Area real estate market is not for the faint of heart. I could dedicate an entire essay (and probably will, in future musings) to the truly drama-infused, gut-wrenching, chaos-inducing, emotional rollercoaster of a ride that my husband and I endured in seeking out and purchasing our first home here. Middle-aged, both of us running our own businesses, facing one of the most expensive markets in the country…who were we to try to attempt this unimaginable feat? It seemed nearly impossible. Actually, it was impossible, were it not for the confluence of good fortune — a patient and savvy real estate agent, the good guidance of our loan officer, our dream financial advisors, and the generous resources we received from our families. And yet here I write you, a few months since my last musing on this blog, from inside our new home.
It’s not perfect. Not by a long shot. It lacks the sunshine and light I reveled in at our previous rental home. It’s already screaming for renovations to the closets and laundry room to bring them up to modern-day standards. The oak tree in the front yard is entangled in utility lines and has outgrown its tiny footprint, uprooting the surrounding concrete, and hailing an impending removal. And the house itself is squeezed in between to other homes on the block in a neighborhood that is at once charming and quiet as it is transitional and a lengthy walk from any good amenities.
Yet, this house, this home, is just what we needed. Newly renovated on the inside, clean, solidly constructed — one could not have asked for a better built house that still gives us plenty of opportunity to “build on our investment” with potential for improvements and expansions. Maybe a few skylights or an extra window can bring in some sunshine. The neighbors all around us are close-knit, diverse in both cultural ethnicity and in life history, warm and welcoming. From where I sit, I can hear the joyful screams of children playing in the playground outside the elementary school around the corner.
I do miss our old neighborhood, a mere 2 miles away from this one, as one misses a dear friend that just doesn’t come around as much anymore. Everything these days feels tinged with sentiment. I can still run to Lake Merritt nearby, it’s just a longer lead-up to getting there. I can still go to the Saturday farmers market that I love, I just have to ride my bicycle now instead of walking there.
The uprooting dynamic of moving and shifting neighborhoods is as profound a tectonic shift as if I had moved across the country. And perhaps more so in this time of shift in culture, politics, and our environment. Drama ensues in Washington and America drifts on without the leadership it needs to chart the uncertain waters of our time. Communities all around us are grappling with rising inequities, homelessness, cultural and economic rifts. The natural environment bends and contorts itself in the face of climate change; I barely recognize the seasons as I once knew them.
I am reminded, too, of the wave of immigrants all over the globe making their way from their homes, thousands of miles, to new places so unfamiliar and all too often unwelcoming. I can barely comprehend the resilience and courage it takes to do such a thing, especially when I, so weak, am completely uprooted when I move just 2 miles down the road.
Author and activist, Rebecca Solnit, beautifully captures the power of what we call home in her collection of essays, Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics:
The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.
I have found my home for now. I will make of it what I can, build it with my husband into the place that Solnit speaks of, that “point of intersection of all the lines” that are who we are as human beings in this time. As winter rolls in and the holiday season comes into full view, as the days grow darker and America nestles in a little more closely (perhaps?) to our families and loved ones, ringing in the end of another tumultuous and uncertain year, I will hunker down in this place. I’ll bake a few pies. I will string a few lights. I will be home for the holidays. I will discover just what that means.
November 26, 2019