‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.’
– T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Six years ago on July 15th 2009 I flew to Barcelona and, without really intending to, left home.
Within two weeks I met my partner while dancing in the Pyranees and the next year I moved into his home in a town 30km from Catalunya’s capital city.
From then on I skipped between Catalunya and Cornwall, trying to manage two very different homes.
Trying to feel at Home
I sent over furniture, books, favourite pictures and familiar crockery. I thought that my own things would make me feel at home.
My two dogs Bonnie and Blue came to live with us. Home had to be where my dogs were.
I rented out my Cornish cottage, and arranged for other people to take care of the land. I was letting go while holding on.
We did our best to create a family home in Granollers where we lived with my partner’s adolescent son. The quirky old family house carried a lot of history. We painted and decorated, took holidays, ate meals, entertained visitors, worked side by side on various projects. We tried hard but it still wasn’t my home. I didn’t know why. I blamed myself a lot of the time.
New things were coming in and old things were disappearing. I was no longer working in my profession as an acupuncturist, I was learning both Catalan and Spanish, teaching English, not dancing tango. The struggle to create a positive relationship with my step-son left me feeling like a failure much of the time. It is hard to describe how you can be both happy and unhappy at the same time – that’s why I wrote this blog.
The Catalan Way helped me make sense of all the changes in my life.
‘The impulse for much writing is homesickness. You are trying to get back home, and in your writing you are invoking that home, so you are assuaging the homesickness.’
– Joan Didion
I loved learning about a new culture and meeting so many warm and kind people who opened their hearts to me. I was lucky to find a kindred spirit in Granollers. Her new baby also provided me with a sense of family and someone small to care for. Last year,walking through the streets holding her sleeping in my arms, I realised that I had never before been left to care for a young baby. My heart was often singing.
I felt very alive in Catalunya – awake and present.
But there were difficult times too
I felt ungrounded, awkward with people who didn’t understand my faltering Catalan, tired of always being the strange one, guilty for taking my beloved dogs into a home with no garden and a resident spaniel who attacked Bonnie. I had to learn about step-families and gradually realised that the tension and arguments were totally normal and nothing to do with my own personal failure.
People expect women to magically mother those who don’t want it. I always longed for a child but daily rejection when you have no happy baby memories to call on is a bitter experience. Bonding with a step-child is very difficult and too often women are left alone to fail again and again.
What makes a house into a home?
‘If the day ever comes when they know who
They are, they may know better where they are.’
– Robert Frost, A Cabin in the Clearing
Five things that help us feel at home anywhere
We don’t need all of them, all the time but some of them, most of the time, helps us feel truly at home.
1. Safety – home is a retreat from the outside world and we need to feel safe at home. So we can let down our defenses and relax.
2. Friendship – whether we live alone or with other people, we cannot feel at home if there is too much tension or constant emotional distance. Be your own friend and live with people who wish you well.
3. Creativity – home is a place to be creative and express ourselves. If there is restriction on your creativity, a house won’t feel like home.
4. Solitude – sometimes we need to be alone at home, knowing you won’t be disturbed, so you can relax completely into being who you are.
5. Peace – life is often noisy and disturbing. Living with other people also means noise and disruption and sometimes this is wonderful. But if you live with unwanted noise and intrusion that you can’t escape from, then it is hard to feel at home.
On the Camino I felt at home on the road, and at home in myself. All five of the above requirements were met. In Granollers, in the house, far too often, it was hard to get more than one.
Now, back in Cornwall, I have all five again and as I understand better now what is needed, I hope I can help make this a home for us both.
In case you are wondering, my stepson is going to live with his mother, also going home in one way.
What do you need to feel at home? Have you ever lived in a place where your peace and tranquility were disturbed so much that you wanted to leave?