Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: A Year of Coming Home

2010: A Year of Coming Home

by Zinta Aistars

Wanderlust has been in my family genes as far back as I can trace those genes. A great-grandfather, I’m told, sailed off across the Baltic Sea from the Ventspils port in Latvia to explore the world. A Kurland Viking, conquering the seas, ever curious to see and experience what land lies beyond the next crashing wave. My father spent time in many Latvian towns and cities growing up. Both of my parents love to travel, perhaps more open than most to adventure, having been uprooted from their ancestral homes during World War II and coming to America as refugees. They spent a portion of their youth in what were called “displaced persons” camps.

Being “displaced” almost seems like an inheritance. If there is one ongoing theme in much of my writing over the many decades, it is a searching for Home. Home with a capital H—in place and in person. That place where one feels at ease, safe, able to rest from the stresses of the world outside. That place where one can be, fully and truly, oneself.

Everyone in my family loves to travel. I, too, yearn for it on a regular basis. Doesn’t matter to where as much as it matters to embark on an adventure into the unknown. Moving from place to place had become a part of my lifestyle, along with frequent travel. I’ve traveled and lived overseas, I’ve been to 49 of our 50 states in the U.S., and I’ve had more than 30 addresses attached to my name. It is only in the past couple of years or so that I have, more or less, settled down. An occasional trip north to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (one of my favorite addresses and one I hope to reclaim someday) to shake the dust of civilization off my mind, a longer weekend jaunt to Chicago to visit my daughter, or perhaps a few days at a retreat in the woods to catch up on quiet and creative time. That’s the extent of my travels now.

Home, however, has always evaded me. It occurred to me at one point that it may be that my family so loves travel because we are, well, a bit homeless. No, not living in cardboard boxes or sleeping on park benches (although I have been homeless for a few months in my life, having no address at all to my name but a tent in the trunk of my car), but more of an internal homelessness, even while we have lived in pleasant and comfortable houses. Addresses where we receive our mail. Roofs and walls that serve as shelter. But Home?

My parents always talked about returning to Latvia, once their homeland regained its freedom. In 1991, when the Soviet Union and its Iron Curtain fell at last, Latvia became a free country again, at least officially. Struggles with its powerful big bear of a neighbor to the east continue to this day. My parents, now having crossed into their 80s, no longer talk about “going home.” As much as they have ever been, enjoying their circle of close friends and a busy social life in the local Latvian community, Mom enjoying her gardening, Dad painting in his art studio in the basement, they have settled into a house and call it home. Travel continues to be a kind of ongoing search for bits and pieces of Home, while never fully finding it. They have settled into a comfortable place in their lives, embrace their golden years, and hope for no more address changes.

As this decade comes to a close, and we cross the threshold not only into a New Year, but a new decade—2010—I have decided to declare this the Year of Coming Home. If Home has kept evading me, at some point over the last couple years, I have realized that it is not an exterior place that has evaded me, but it has been me that has been evading Home. Granted, the safe place did not exist. Neither in person nor in place. I lived in a straw house, and the people I allowed into my life were, too many of them, straw people.

Late in 2009, I took another look at my house. It hit me: I have lived in this house longer than I have lived anywhere, ever. I never intended to stay here this long. I never intended to stay at all. It was a shelter chosen for proximity to schools for my children, for ease of access to work and community nearby, a temporary abode that I fully intended to leave at first opportunity the moment my two offspring were grown and gone.

Some dozen years or more have gone by. I hadn’t been counting. And here I still live. Yet because I never thought of it as Home, and because finances were concentrated fully on raising my two children, I never showed the place any respect, let alone love. It has been the house where I live. Nothing more. A place for my stuff, as George Carlin would say.

I’m getting older. Wiser, too, I hope. I no longer chase adventure and those occasional moments of intense joy the way I did when I was younger. I still love to travel. The road still calls. But the call of Home has grown increasingly more seductive. I want peace more than great drama. I want that safe place, that place of comfort and some small measure of security. A place that knows my name when I walk inside, and greets me with another reflection of my identity, more than any other place can.

In the past few weeks, as 2009 has been winding down, I have thrown my house into complete upheaval. Neglect has been replaced by almost brutally focused attention. The roof has been torn away and replaced, the furnace deep in its belly is new, the rooms have been gutted, the ceiling has come down. I have exposed the very skeleton of my house and am now in the process of fleshing it out again—giving it something of my own spirit. I toss into it the colors that reflect the colors inside of me, a palette called Earthen Serenity. Dusty grays and earthy browns and mossy greens and foggy blues. These are the colors that remind me of the earth, the forest, the misty sky, and the peace of years adding up. This, I see, is the color of me.

I stand in the center of my house ruined to be rebuilt, and I see mirrored pieces of my own face, the body of my life, coming together. What has been scattered here and there, over continents and oceans, over decades, over broken and now left behind relationships, over surely a hundred different lives that I have lived and now abandoned, I am now calling to me the dust of memory, the gold of experience and hard-won wisdom, the shimmer of long ago love, the shadows of wars won and survived, the scars inflicted upon me but now become my badges of honor as a thriving survivor … and it all shape shifts, patch by patch, beam by beam, plaster into wall and ceiling, tile into floor, and becomes Home. If I were a place, this place would be me.

Last night I sat long in the middle of this gorgeous ruin. I sat in the dust of plaster and paint and gazed at this place. We are not there yet, this house and I. But we are moving toward it. That moment when I will open the door, and for the first time in my life, find myself Home.

This will surely not be my last house. It surely is not my dream house. It is not set in a place that I would choose again. It is not perfect, not by a long shot. But it is mine. With each day passing, this house is becoming more my Home than I have allowed any previous place to become.

2010, may it be a fine year. May it be a decade of growth. May it be a year of learning to draw and enforce boundaries, those fences that make good neighbors, gates that lock out the wolves but spring wide open to allow in the kind and true spirits. May it be a year of no more running away, less escapism and more return to self and self discovery. May it be a year of peace. Peace in the world, peace in my community, peace at hearth and heart and home.

I have been waiting for this year for a long, long time. I have been waiting for it from the first year I ever was. It’s time to travel again … travel all the way back—to Home.

Happy New Year, Everyone. May you find your way home safely.

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