“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
Seeing the photo of the young girl, I found myself asking questions to no one in particular, as I often do, including, “Why did she run?” Several years ago, I had seen the photo of a young boy and had asked myself the same questions, and while everyone was searching and wanting to get him home, the feeling in the pit of my stomach asked, “What if home isn’t a safe place?” What is home, I wonder? Just maybe, as Baldwin suggests, home is not a place at all, but simply a state of mind.
My home offers me warmth in the cold of winter and protection from the heat in the sweltering of summer. It keeps me dry when the rain seems to never end. But that could happen in any building, and it wouldn’t be a home. For me, being at home is being safe from the rest of the world. Not that the rest of the world is unsafe, but being home is without question a safe place to be. Going a little further along that line, home is a place of safety to be vulnerable, to be me. It hasn’t always been that way, though, and it isn’t that way for many people around the world. In it’s most basic sense, the word home means “ones’ place of residence,” according to Merriam-Webster, and safe means “free from harm or risk,” and vulnerable means “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded.” I believe these three words must be used together in the discussion.
What does it mean to be safe vs feel safe at home and why is it so important? Being safe and feeling safe are two different things. If your home has ever been broken into, you might have put all the best security systems in place to be safe and sleep with a gun beside you, but it doesn’t mean you feel safe. When someone takes that safety from you – in your home or from you as a person – it takes a while to learn to feel safe. Being safe is a much more concrete thing, where feeling safe is a psychological thing. It is important that we know we are safe, but it isn’t just physical safety, like a roof and food and knowing we are protected from things that go bump in the night.
I keep coming back to the word vulnerable. To feel safe at home means we feel safe to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. If your child wants to discuss sexuality, and the school has told him/her that’s a topic for home, but no one at home wants to talk about such an uncomfortable topic, your child doesn’t feel safe being vulnerable.
If your husband is struggling at work and wants to talk to you about how much he feels like he’s failing, or your wife wants to talk to you about how she is struggling with her beliefs, or your parent wants to talk to you about how confused they are things in their world, and you aren’t willing to listen to any of these people, you have basically told them, “Our home is not safe for you to be vulnerable.” To spell it out precisely with definitions, you are saying to them “Your place of residence is not free from harm or risk for you to avoid being physically or emotionally wounded.”
It is important that we feel home is the one place we are able to risk sharing that part of ourselves without being physically or emotionally wounded. Period. Families must either get over their discomfort of certain topics or risk losing the relationships with the most important people in their lives.
And that brings us to relationships. That’s so much of what home is really about, isn’t it? We loved having kids and teenagers at our house a great deal of the time when our kids were growing up, and we loved that they felt at home with us. I always hoped there were other homes where my children felt at home, too. Not every child felt equally at home in their own homes, though, and that has stayed with me.
When I lived alone, my focus was on my relationship with myself, which wasn’t always an easy thing, either. When I married, my focus was on my spouse, then our children, then everyone else in town and in the world (it seems), and my relationship with myself took a back seat. Finally, I am at a place where I am able to talk to myself about uncomfortable topics and share with my spouse without fear of his leaving me because we disagree. My mother and I are able to share much more meaningful and honest conversations. My children and I are able to share honestly with each other, even if it stings sometimes. It took many years for me to realize the importance of feeling safe in our relationships with those closest to us.
That brings me back to the young boy I spoke of in the beginning. My feeling in the pit of my stomach was right. They found the boy and discovered he ran because of the way he was treated at home – with abuse. If you know someone who has run away because they do not feel safe, help them find safety. If that isn’t in their home, there are other places. Contact domesticshelters.org to find a safe place nearby. Women, men, children, pets all should feel safe at home, and when they do not, they need to know there are people who will help them find that safety.
Maya Angelou once said, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.” I think she was right, and I hope that your ache can be satisfied without fear. When you are with me, come as you are, and I’ll do my best to be the person who helps you feel at home.
Joy is the will which labors, which overcomes obstacles, which knows triumph.~ William Butler Yeats
Whether you think you can or think you can’t you’re right. - Henry Ford
The best way out is always through. ~ Robert Frost
Real difficulties can be overcome, it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable. ~ Theodore N. Vail
Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall. ~ Oliver Goldsmith
You must be the change you want to see in the world. - Mahatma Gandhi