October 9, 2005 Newsletter
The rash of natural
disasters occurring around the globe has made me quite
reflective about what really matters in life...as I was when
I wrote the following.
"I would go home."
That's the answer I supply when folks ask, "Where are you going to
if you don't work for a large corporation?" Around twenty-one months ago, I made the choice
not to follow a corporation all over the world, regardless
of how lucrative it might appear on the surface. I
feel confident in this life choice and truly believe
everything I have ever experienced
has all been for the purpose of preparing me for the next
phase of my life . . . whatever that is. I'm uncertain
at this point what door will be opened for me to step
through, so for the time being, when anyone cares to know
where I'm going, it's home.
home, a few days ago I visited my sister's new home just
outside Nashville. She and her husband have had the
good fortune to build a beautiful home in which to raise
their two sons. Yet for the past seventy-five days,
she's found herself trying to maintain it alone, while my
brother-in-law fulfills a government assignment in Iraq.
I couldn't help thinking how terrible this war is that takes
him away from his home and family. But, I know, in his
heart he's convinced that by leaving his home he's actually
doing his utmost to protect it. It's a perplexing
situations, along with recent experiences and national
events, have gotten me thinking quite a bit about our
concept of home. Everyone seems to have their own
interpretation. When my parents finally visited my
newly purchased house in west Knoxville, my dad's only
comment was, "It's really nice, Rhonda, but I don't know why
you bought it, if you're coming home." A moment of
stunned silence ensued as I struggled to process the meaning
of his comment. For the first time in these many
months of transition, I realized he had assumed if I were no
longer employed in Knoxville, like a rubber ball tethered by
elastic to a paddle, I would just automatically return to
Greeneville where I grew up and they still live. It
struck me how odd that sounded to me, yet how normal it
seemed to him. Eventually, I did manage to respond,
"Well, Daddy, I guess this means I am home."
Clearly we had two vastly different ideas on the subject,
and it made me wonder, what does home really mean to me?
home implies a place where we are safe, and happy, at
peace, and fulfilled. It's representative of the one
place we would like to be in all the world. Like the
old adage, "home is the place you spend the first half of
your life trying to get away from, and the second half
trying to get back to", home to my dad obviously meant the
place where you grew up. Not surprisingly, then, he
still lives next door to the house his parents moved to when
he was fifteen. Many families everywhere do this, I
know, creating a virtual tribe or compound within which they
care for and support one another. But, for whatever
reason, I and my three-years-younger sister have responded
to the pull of a different magnet. The adage that
better suits me, when it comes to my dad's concept of home,
is "you can't go home again."
saying, I suppose, means that everything and everyone
continues to change over time. Since no one stays the
same, then it stands to reason that, likewise, no thing
stays the same. That moment in time when you did live
in your parent's home is gone forever. There is great
truth in that, however, it brings another question to mind.
Both of those old sayings assume one had a pleasant
childhood with a positive concept of home and would actually
harbor an, at least, occasional desire to experience that
again. But what about those who didn't have a positive
experience. What about those who had a terrible,
abusive experience as children in the home of their parents?
past two years I've been visiting a home for abused,
abandoned, and orphaned children in the mountains of
Guatemala. The "homes" these children endured, before
finding their way to the orphanage, are almost too terrible
to comprehend. Poverty so extreme, abuse so severe,
living conditions so horrible, a future so bleak...it's a
"home life" that none would envy and certainly would never
pine for a nostalgic return. The first time in their
young lives that they ever experience anything close to what
we typically refer to as home is when they are placed in the
orphanage. There, at least, they are fed three meals a
day, given an education, and, most importantly, protected as
much as the court allows from their past. But even
this, their first relatively peaceful existence, comes
nowhere near what my dad means when he uses the word home.
The five hundred children there share everything. They
have enough, but there is no such thing as plenty.
There are no indulgences, no toys, no candy, no
over-abundance of social and sporting activities to fill
their time like we have grown accustomed to in this country.
They are surrounded by people, but the situation affords
them little personal attention. They never know the
individualized love of a parent. Their concept of home
is vastly different from anything I or my family and friends
might imagine. If you told most of them, "you can't go
home again", I'm sure their response would be "thank God".
same response I'm sure we would get from the largely
forgotten and homeless population in this country.
Those who don't have conventional homes at all...maybe never
had them. Instead they grew up on the street...in
homeless shelters...in old cars...in abandoned
hotels...bouncing from one flop house or hobo camp to
another. Hundreds upon thousands of individuals in
this country alone have never experienced what mainstream
society refers to as home. Our concept of home
wouldn't resonate with them at all. Telling them you
were going to take them home wouldn't conjure up the secure,
peaceful, happy emotions you might expect. They have
no reference point by which they can measure how close or
how far away they are to "home." It's almost as if,
for some, the word doesn't exist in their vocabulary.
Many of our
non-profit organizations exist to try to enable this
unfortunate segment of our population to become part of
mainstream society. Local organizations like Knox Area
Rescue Ministries and Knoxville Habitat for Humanity stand
on the foundation that every individual deserves a chance to
assume their place in mainstream society and to live with
dignity. But one of the uphill battles they face is to
be able to transform their client's paradigm about "home".
The idea must be so enticing as to compel them to
self-select that transformation. Potential Habitat
homeowners must first learn what it means to have a home.
For most, when they build a house with Habitat, it's the
first time in their lives that they can point to a structure
and say, "That's my house." And the Rescue Ministry
has an even greater challenge. Some of their clients
have existed on the streets by whatever means necessary for
so long, they don't know any other way...can't even
comprehend it. It's a pattern of behavior and, in some
cases, addiction so deeply engrained that they literally
can't even fathom anything else. Saying to these
people, "C'mon, let me help you get home," would hold little
or no allure.
the same is true in the minds of the impoverished
inhabitants of the rain forest I visited in Nicaragua this
summer. I've seen poverty in my lifetime. I've
seen third-world poverty. But none of what I'd seen
prepared me for what I saw in Nicaragua. Were it not
for the clothes they somehow managed to get their hands on,
I could say their existence is almost as primitive as the
images we associate with the original Native Americans.
The muddy earth is their floor and the sky, which alternates
between broiling sun and treacherous storms, is their roof.
They shelter themselves with whatever they can
find...sticks, reeds, bamboo, palm branches, scrap pieces of
rusty tin, salvaged rotting boards. They keep the cook
fire burning continuously over which they prepare the meager
corn, squash, and beans they might be able to grow in
season, and the plantains and fruit they harvest from the
jungle. If they are good hunters with bow, knife,
machete or hatchet, they might have meat to cook.
Although electricity and running water is available in the
country, most do not have it. So the inside of their
abode is harsh, dark, and dank. Unshuttered windows
and a proliferation of holes and cracks in the structure
make it little more than shade from the sun and umbrella
from the rain. Typically, it's not even that, for the
steamy heat envelopes you wherever you go, and the winds
blow the rain sideways, washing down the mountainsides,
flooding the so-called roads. The plight of these
families is worsened by the exodus of the only segment of
the population who can escape--the men--leaving huge
families of old women, young girls, and children to fend for
themselves. Certainly this can't qualify as "home" in
anyone's vocabulary. It's an existence no one would
desire, least of all those who are relegated to it.
this dilemma about "home" we experience in this earthly
existence that makes so many yearn for the home they expect
to have in the next life. As in the immortal words of
singer/songwriter Van Morrison, "Heaven is my home," is
their mantra. Almost every religion, especially
Christian religions, advise that we will never be totally
satisfied in this life--we will never be truly at
"home"--because this earth is not our home. Until we
are reunited with our creator, we are only travelers making
that long journey home.
I'm able to
comprehend this concept of a heavenly home, and I believe in
those Christian teachings. But there's still a little
in that argument with which I struggle. That concept
still implies that home is a particular "place" or "locale".
The biblical description of our heavenly home even describes
the appearance of the "structure"...mansions and pearly
gates and streets of gold. We still want to make
"home" synonymous with "house" or "abode" and ignore the
fact that this idea doesn't resonate equally with all
members of our human population. I, for one, certainly
think it must go beyond that.
I heard a
pastor on the radio once make the comment, "People don't
die. Bodies die, but people don't." I like the
implications of this statement. It reminds us that our
spirit--our soul--that part of us which is immortal
transcends this earthly existence. Therefore I can
say, it also transcends any situation or living conditions
of the body in which it's housed. With this thought,
we can begin to move much closer to the true meaning of
home, and we can begin to understand much more deeply what
it really means to go home.
another common saying in our society, "Home is where the
heart is." Although still not quite perfect in it's
illustration of home, I believe it moves us in the right
direction. We can learn a lot about what this phrase
means by observing those who endure natural disasters.
Recently our entire country, as well as much of the world,
has been shocked by the devastation left on the Gulf Coast
in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. For the lucky
survivors, the houses and even whole cities they call home
are gone or else stand in ruins. Thousands have been
displaced and scattered across the country. Families
have been rendered in two and left unable to locate one
another. My own family has been touched by this
tragedy, with my aunt and two cousin's family homes damaged
in Biloxi, Mississippi. With one of my cousins six
months pregnant with her first child, they exist among the
devastation and ruins and wonder when and what will their
insurance company do, when and how will their lives ever
return to "normal"?
watch these stories on the news and read about the
inhabitants of the many evacuee shelters, I wonder if many
of those poor folks will be "homeless" forever. Will
they ever be able to "go home" again? Many have said
they will never leave the stricken area they call home,
while many more have said they will never return, and
instead will build a new life--a new home--in the towns that
have welcomed them in.
something in their stories. It's a common theme
repeated by all who survive such events. It's the same
message I heard from my friend, Jeri Beth, who lost all her
worldly possessions in a house fire. "It's just
stuff," Jeri says, holding tight to her husband and two
sons, "and that stuff is not what matters," she concludes
confidently. Jeri and all the hurricane survivors have
learned the hard way, it's not those things with which we
surround ourselves and traditionally associate with "home"
that matter. It's what we carry inside that matters
most. "We are alive, and we have each other," is what
the hurricane homeless repeat, echoing the sentiments of all
those who come the closest in our society to defining what
home really is.
watched hour after hour of news reports from the battered
Gulf Coast, the other half of that definition of home was
revealed to me in the stories that surfaced during the
aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. One such
story involved an old African-American man in a little
wooden motor boat. Forced by his economic situation to
stay behind when New Orleans was voluntarily evacuated, he
survived the storm surge only to see his city flooded and
destroyed. But while most of the stranded inhabitants
began a desperate fight for their own survival, this
unlikely hero began a different quest...a fight to help and
save others. Several days after the levies broke
around New Orleans, TV news reporters found him motoring
from house to flooded house, rescuing strangers from their
porches, attics, and rooftops by pulling them into the boat
and delivering them to higher ground.
you get the boat?" the reporter asked him.
"I saw it,
and I took it." the man replied through watery eyes.
"People are in trouble and need help. If I didn't do
it, who was going to help them? I'll put it back where
I found it, and I'll pay for the gas when this is over; but
right now I'm doing what has to be done."
moment the reporter sat in silence as the cameraman
maintained the close-up of the man's weathered and lined
dark skin, shadowed by several day's growth of black
whiskers peppered with gray. And in that moment the
otherwise frail old man, whom few would ever even notice if
they had passed him on the street before the storm, stood
out in that little boat like a giant...a hero for all to
the 2nd century B.C. philosopher wrote, "When you are
inspired by some great purpose, all your thoughts break
their bounds: your mind transcends limitations, your
consciousness expands in every direction, and you find
yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant
forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover
yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed
yourself to be."
and the stories of those who survived the tragedy with an
enlightened perspective, and those who have unexpectedly
risen to heroic heights even in these terrible situations,
inform my definition of home more than anything else.
We may not all share the same childhood experiences of home.
We didn't have the same kind of houses, neighborhoods,
towns, family structures, or religious beliefs. Nor do
we share the same cultural, economic, social, and
educational opportunities...unfortunately. But there
is one common denominator we all do share. It
transcends the shelter in which we live, the clothes we
wear, the jobs we have, the cars we drive, etc., etc.
I see it in
the eyes and hear it in the words of every person I meet in
my work and in my travels. It's that desire we all
feel inside. It's that yearning we all possess, no
matter how many layers and layers of scar tissue under which
it may be buried, which continually drives all of us to do
that which we are capable of doing...to become that which we
are born to become...to be inspired by our life purpose of
which Patanjali writes and to awaken our dormant
capabilities to create that wonderful world--that home-- in
which we, at last, find ourselves in total peace,
fulfillment, relationship, purpose, and
happiness...inside... regardless of the storms that rage on
result, there isn't one standard definition of this "home."
Home is as unique from individual to individual as each
person's unique blend of talents, personality, attitude,
behavior, knowledge, skills, and experiences. That is
my understanding of home. No one else can define home
for me. Only I can discover it for myself. And
I've learned I can find it whether I return to Greeneville,
stay in a house in Knoxville, lose it all in a catastrophe,
or move to the poverty of Central America. Home is
separate from place. Home is where I live the life and
fulfill the purpose for which I was born.
ask, if home isn't found in a specific locale, then how will
you know when you've found it? You will know when
you've found it because you'll feel it. I have felt it
in Knoxville, in Guatemala, in Nicaragua, and in many
locales. The contentment washes over me like warm
water, and I no longer feel any stress, worry, fear, or
pain. It is the feeling of being totally at peace.
Can we ever
go home, especially in a world filled with poverty, tragedy,
terrorism, and greed? Absolutely. But understand
this. Going home doesn't just happen. You have
to work for it.
So if you
ask me where I'm going tomorrow, or next week, or next
month, or next year, the answer will be the same. I
may not know right now what town I want to be in, what
structure I will live in, or what employment changes I might
but I still know where I'm going. I'm going home.
If you want to know the truth...I'm already there.