Among the many themes in my books, the motif of HOME—or perhaps more precisely, houses—surprises me most with its broad-spectrum presence. I never planned to weave those ideas into the writing, was hardly even aware of them. But in this homesick world, maybe that’s not unexpected at all.
Recently I suffered an attack…of nostalgia. Did you know that nostalgia used to be cited in psychiatric textbooks as a disease? It’s among the most common of human emotions, yet one of the most acutely and wonderfully poignant as well. Nostalgia combines the sadness of what we have lost in this homesick world with the joy of memory and/or anticipation of what is to come.
After almost 40 years, Chile has become my home. No doubt about it. Putting the idea of homes into perspective, I’ve also laid aside the either/or. I’m at home wherever I am…and I’m always homesick too.
“There is no place like home,” L. Frank Baum expressed it in The Wizard of Oz. So click, click, click of the ruby slippers, and I found myself in a Maine field the other day, swimming in lilacs and heaping leaves on a bonfire. Obviously, in my imagination–in reality, I couldn’t do both of those things at the same time!
But who knew how much I missed “home”? I couldn’t have guessed. But quite suddenly, I realized I’d grown up in one of the world’s most beautiful places and never appreciated it. I walked away and never looked back. I left it without considering all I would lose.
“Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.” –Cecelia Ahern, Irish novelist
We’re about to move again. Just down the highway, but still… It’s only the 17th time in our married life, and that’s not such a lot these days. But that’s why I savor a few “magical objects” transported from home to home:
In this homesick world, it’s hard to lay a solid foundation, nurture a sheltering family tree, or even invest your heart in a circle of friends when it may break up and scatter tomorrow. Perhaps that’s why HOME grows in importance with each passing year.
“Home is the nicest word there is.” –Laura Ingalls Wilder, American pioneer
My own family intertwines New England Yankee and Madawaskan French roots. Whatever you can say about that marriage of practical and passionate, realistic and romantic…it’s old. It has depth and patina. Coming home for me needs to act, in part, like a time portal. A window to my heritage. A narrative prompt, you might say.
Home reminds me of who I was and always will be. Instead of loneliness, familiar objects stir memories of the people and places of my past. C.S. Lewis called nostalgia “that unnamable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier” at a smell or a sound.
The creak of wooden floorboards and the scent of old books. The growl of a lawnmower and the rich green aroma of cut grass. A tolling bell, frosty breath. Bubble gum, onions sautéing in Crisco. The taste of perfect scrambled eggs. All these evoke home for me.
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. –William Morris, 19th-century British designer
Today’s organizational guru Marie Kondo would suggest that possessions should spark joy. That’s why I keep the box of button-jewels, the gleaming jar of spoons, the bottles sparkling on the windowsill of my home in this homesick world.
In Destiny at Dolphin Bay, the main character, Melissa, leaves home in the beginning and returns home in the end…a new person. During the course of the story, she learns to love the Chiloé Islands, a place culturally as far from her hometown as another planet and yet a home away from home.
Legacy of the Linnebrink Light brings Cristina, who’s lived around the globe, to her real destination: A home she’s never known in a homesick world. And Valeria, who grew up in a cottage, ends up queen of a castle in the series Winds of Andalucía.
“If you go anywhere, even paradise, you will miss your home.” –Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist
Much of the point of traveling is to understand there’s no place like home. If you want your house to look fresh and new, take to the road—or seas or skies—for a while and come back. Homemade cookies and tea in my own recliner always look and taste pretty special after airport food and airplane seats.
But don’t forget to bring home your keepsakes. The Victorians approached decorating by showcasing their journeys with the novel and intriguing items they brought back. Our wings make the whole world home. I remember the tales as well as the trips when I glimpse the Mexican pottery, the Jerusalem cashmere shawl, the Peruvian stone puzzle, the Sanibel shells, the Chinese tea set. And the tins from Germany, France, Argentina, Korea, the UK…and the market up my street.
They all remind me of how we build and embellish our nests in a desperately homesick world. Of course we do. Yet none of these things can fill us, but oh, how we try, like the crazy birds at our house lot, to use feathers and fiberglass and foam beads.
“There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.” –Jane Austen, English novelist
The décor element of texture comes from the wood and stone, the plants and pets, the life. Nothing—not even our home—stays the same forever. That’s part of life, a given. But wherever change happens, hope lives too.
That transformation enters many a dreamhouse story too. The villain’s mansion of Destiny at Dolphin Bay becomes a dormitory for a teen mission team in Pursuit of the Pudú Deer. The shabby hovel of Destiny’s drowning victim is renovated in The Seahorse Patrol as a home for Melissa, a victim-turned-teacher. Later, in The Sea-Silk Banner, she crosses the threshold of the home she loved in Destiny again…as a bride.
Valeria’s castle in Spain leads her home to the seaside cottage. And after years of self-imposed exile, Coni (in Swan Island Secrets) wanders back to rediscover her homes scattered around Patagonia.
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need… A home without books is a body without a soul.” –Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman
As the character Nicolás says, “You can’t go back. But you can go on.” Moving, learning, adapting, and growing into the next home gives us a chance to reinvent our lives to some extent. We review the memories as we pack up and maybe downsize. Perhaps, in what we carry with us into the future, we find deeper meaning than before.
Our new home lies on the slope of a barren gravel pit (no, I’m not kidding). But the semi-desert valley’s browns and grays have awoken my forgotten longing for green fields and forests. I must plant a garden in this homesick world: Grass, flowers, trees. Then I hope only for a book and a chair, a breeze on a porch: Fresh air and miraculous space to breathe it in.
And Something Blue
The ocean view we bought this tiny lot for a year ago has vanished, blocked by a neighbor’s construction on the property line (not kidding about that, either). Sigh. The promised “houses and lands” keep running off into the blue horizon… Both sky and sea look gray more often than blue.
“The ache for home lives in all of us.” –Maya Angelou, American poet
But call it a coastal palette, then: Blue and green and gray. We’re going to make it beautiful. We’re going to invite, welcome, and party here. This ordinary house will build memories and minds and hearts, because I refuse to let it go unredeemed by joy, despite the disappointments.
The German word for nostalgia, sehnsucht, means a yearning for an ideal that is more real than reality. Sounds like dreaming or storytelling to me. And in this homesick world, it’s the choice to wait “as in a foreign land…for the city whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9-10) and to look forward to “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).
Perhaps home, like the kingdom of God, lives within you. Every frustration and setback with our “homely” house here and now make it easier to move on, to hold our earthly possessions loosely, and to crave our real and final home.
“That house was a perfect house whether you liked food or sleep or storytelling or singing or reading or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness.” –Bilbo describes the House of Elrond, J.R.R. Tolkien
Want that kind of house?
Me too. Today and always.
Only one corner window’s left with a seascape in my homesick house. Like Elrond’s house, the solitary viewpoint offers a glimpse of my Father’s house, a place where we will dwell forever, followed surely by goodness and lovingkindness (Ps. 23:6).
Someday I’ll leave this homesick world behind. And in spite of clinging to it now, I feel sure I’ll never miss it when I’m home at last.