“Be at home where you are” (1 Tim 6:6-7)
Being fully at home in a new place is not always easy.
But in making a home, being at home seems kind of inherent.
“No settled family or community has ever called its home place an “environment.” None has ever called its feeling for its home place “biocentric” or “anthropocentric.” None has ever thought of its connection to its home place as “ecological,” deep or shallow. The concepts and insights of the ecologists are of great usefulness in our predicament, and we can hardly escape the need to speak of “ecology” and “ecosystems.” But the terms themselves are culturally sterile. They come from the juiceless, abstract intellectuality of the universities which was invented to disconnect, displace, and disembody the mind. The real names of the environment are the names of rivers and river valleys; creeks, ridges, and mountains; towns and cities; lakes, woodlands, lanes roads, creatures, and people.”
The names we give our homes, the names of our streets, rivers, parks, and people — these are the whispers of our past, our present and the memories we carry with us. Wendell Berry reminds us of the beauty of the familiar. It is about the messiness of nature, and the complex, and sometimes bloody cycle of life. Our communities are anything but sterile – anything but disembodied. We may call it by some cutesy cliche – we may talk of blooming where we are planted – but ultimately this is about seeking to make a life by making home where we find ourselves. Sometimes we choose where we make home: this is ideal, of course. But, like many whose lives are subject to other forces, military families do not get to choose their geographic location. We find ourselves in New Mexico – though we are making home here, it wouldn’t have been on the top of the list if we’d been asked where we wanted to spend our first year of marriage. I’m not sure it would be on the list at any time in our lives.
So, what defines how we make home here?
It is about connecting to the community – seeking to find the good and supporting the efforts of others to nurture culture, service & the arts. It is about learning from others. It is about service!! It is about learning the rhythms of a new place — its seasons, its events, its busy times and times of rest.
Once again, I sit at the feet of Wendell Berry and I soak in his words. I ponder what it means to work, As I seek to “make home.” And yet I also reflect on what it means to fail at being at home, to fail at being apart of the community and instead desiring to separate myself. Sometimes, life is scary and home seems like the only safe place in all the world.
I have been here for 36 weeks, and yet I feel like I am still finding my feet. I have explored making art, reconnected with my passion for legal research and writing, and yet, still no full time job offer. There is nothing worse than wanting to be working and earning a paycheck and not having that option open.
“And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work.” We are connected by work even to the places where we don’t work, for all places are connected; it is clear by now that we cannot exempt one place from our ruin of another.”
Berry nails the way in which our work — and not just of the paid kind — connects each of us to each other in community and weaves a tapestry of life in a particular place. But more important than the mundane activities that keep our households running, the shopping, cooking, and cleaning, is the realisation of good work.
“The name of our proper connection to the earth is “good work,” for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing. Good work is always modestly scaled, for it cannot ignore either the nature of individual places or the differences between places, and it always involves a sort of religious humility, for not everything is known. Good work can be defined only in particularity, for it must be defined a little differently for every one of the places and every one of the workers on the earth. The name of our present society’s connection to the earth is “bad work” – work that is only generally and crudely defined, that enacts a dependence that is ill understood, that enacts no affection and gives no honor. Every one of us is to some extent guilty of this bad work. This guilt does not mean that we must indulge in a lot of breast-beating and confession; it means only that there is much good work to be done by every one of us and that we must begin to do it.”
So what do I draw from these weighty words. How do I define a connection to the earth on which I stand as one of honor? It could be as simple as not planting grass in the desert. But, apart from taking the opportunity to relish, of not waiting that we might decorate, or waiting to have barbeque’s until we have the perfect backyard, there is much more to these words of Berry and it all seems a little overwhelming.
But for right now…
Start small, be intentional and choose hospitality week in and week out.
Listening. Observing. Participating. Writing. Photographing. Reflecting.
Anna Blanch Rabe is an Australian-born writer and photographer. You can follow her adventures on Not A Pedestrian Life, or Facebook. More of her photography can be viewed here. For more domestic things take a look at Quotidian Home or her previous website, Goannatree.
This is Day 8 of 31 days to Making a House a Home. The Introductory post is here.
This is the first 31 days series published on Quotidian Home.