Given the Holy Family traveled around the time of Christ’s birth, it strikes me as a bit ironic that we seem fixated with being home at Christmas time. Think no further than “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” or “Baby, Please come home for Christmas.” And when Madonna (get it? Madonna!) sings “Santa Baby,” the chimney is presumably her chimney. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never be brought to mind? Home permeates these weeks until the New Year is breached.
For all my efforts to write about traveling to mountains or beaches or swamps, my favorite place in the world is home. I don’t have a great big house. I’m not a great interior decorator. My garage doors don’t open and close on their own, the front door somehow lost some parts and bangs shut with every open, the yard looks like it has been strangled by winter, and the chalkboard calendar still thinks it’s November.
My house is the exact same floorplan as my neighbor’s house and my neighbor’s neighbor’s house. I have a couple of vacant bedrooms, two offices, a master bedroom, a couple of bathrooms and a den and kitchen. I guess I also have a dining room but I don’t have a dining room table. No one has been upstairs in so long I don’t know if it is still there.
But nowhere else am I ever more comfortable than in my home. Sitting in my office chair with my legs propped up on my desk, curled up in my bed, the spot on the sofa that has contoured to my exact body shape. And then there are the places between. The well-worn path from my office to the coffee pot, from the bed to the bathroom, from the sofa to the kitchen: these trails wear an intimate path in the rind of the earth, the place beneath my feet, and, take this Wallace Stegner, they’re not subject to some romantic naturalism. Home is the place to kick off your shoes, to hang your coat, the place where charity begins, where the heart is, a reception area for cows. Home rushes towards unmannered thoughts, snuggles up with fireplace-warmed clichés, and practices unpracticed postures because we are naked and unashamed, isolated from peering, judging eyes.
Home is a place where “should” suffers impotent obligation. The kitchen should be cleaned. The trash should be taken out. The rotten apple should be discarded. But it doesn’t matter, this perceived obligation, and only becomes real when transformed into desire – or when company comes over.
I’m a part of this “thing;” I’ll call it a group. We meet in a neon-peach colored room with a whiteboard, television, and posters diagraming “effective behavior.” In the seats are people just like me, people who bring adult coloring books and count days and swim in existential angsts and manage their emotions like an untethered kite slapping through a thunderstorm. Every time this group organizes, each individual is asked to rank their desire to isolate. I usually score myself pretty low. “Oh, I guess I’m a two today.” Or, “The force is strong with this, One.” (No one much gets my sense of humor.) Today, though, after three straight days of not leaving the house, I can’t say if I don’t leave my house because I love my house or because I’m trying to isolate myself. It becomes my turn to answer the question in group and I don’t know how to answer it.
Folks like me who struggle with anxiety and/or depression and/or addiction can be chronic isolators. We don’t see ourselves as part of a social group. We are strays. Our pack, if we ever had one, typically doesn’t understand. They accept too easily our excuses and eventually abandon us to our monkish dependence. And ironically, this acceptance reinforces our mental illness’ proclivity to isolate, to believe we’ve been orphaned by our social family.
Home becomes a shell. Like a turtle or a snail, I crawl inside my house, shut the doors, pull the curtains, and hibernate from the anxieties lurking outside. I know it doesn’t make sense. I love being outdoors. I love finding trails and places so far removed from my home that its always questionable whether or not I’ll find my way back. Maybe it is just the swirl of chemicals in my brain, maybe it is the constant rehashing of old traumas that are picked at like a gritty scab, but no matter what the combination of these two known ingredients, isolation is the solace that makes everything worse.
People misuse the word ambivalent to mean indifference. Or they confuse the word with ambiguous. Ambivalent actually means to desire two things strongly and simultaneously. But these two things are not like the threading from pillar to post between two menu items after the waiter has circled the table. The sort of ambivalence I’m talking about is contradictory and incompatible – a self-sabotaging paradox plunging the soul into a near inescapable cross. It is a divided will pulled in two equal and opposite directions with such absolute equity the body and mind freeze, not with apathy, but immutability.
Perfected indifference burst into being and remands the soul into a stagnant void. I want to go outside; I want to experience new things. I want to be full of energy and unreserved. But in equal measure I want nothing but to watch YouTube videos, another football game, a nap followed by bedtime. My mind stretches apart leaving me paralyzed on the sofa. I do nothing because I cannot do anything. I wonder if this is the sort of void God endured before that first creative impulse, a timeless creative nothingness yanked with such harmony it confuses constants and consistencies with serenity and placidity.
I take my first steps towards the door by looking around the house for things to photograph. Who wants a picture of household staples? The skin of an apple? Chipped jasmine rice? A dirty pot? The texture of a farm table? The paltry and capricious, a letter in the world of paragraphs and pages, these are the things that I surround myself with, and this closeness surely must fasten some meaning between the world and me. Perhaps this is the first step outside, noticing what is inside, under my feet, in my hand, the very things that literally and metaphorically become part of who I am. I am home. I am home. And if this is truly the case, if in fact, I am home, I believe I can go anywhere comfortably.
Today I am going to leave the house. I don’t know if I will walk or drive or stand on my front porch for a stranger to stop by and give me a ride. I don’t know where I will go: north or south or wade into the ocean until a current pulls me beyond the horizon. Maybe I will go alone or maybe someone will join me. But this standing and sitting, facing the fork in the road of these recent days, is a form of suffering not capable of long endurance. I will do something, anything to leave this place of still sameness. And that is the grace of this, my universe. Mutiny of will may be locally sourced but it isn’t sustainable. Purpose will surge back in me, even if I have to cajole and castigate these gray winter nights into springtime. And I am capable of doing that. You are capable of doing that. Faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus said. Just that wee bit of believing the universe curves towards intention.
All I have to do, if I can, is put on my shoes. Put on my shoes. It sounds so simple.
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