Looking for Home by Esther Nelson

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been looking for home—home being both a beautiful, comfortable, geographic space as well as a peaceful state of mind/being.  For most of my life, I’ve “made do,” settling for wherever or whatever appeared before me.  I thought that was “good” and selfless behavior—shrinking my desires and wants to a size that made other people happy.  For women in our patriarchal society, shrinkage is a highly-prized quality, useful not just as a survival skill, but as a way of being in the world that allows things to run smoothly for somebody other than yourself. 

Recently, I’ve been trying to find some kind of balance while slogging through several major changes in my life that include loss of family, friends, and job.  Part of that balancing act involves looking for an esthetically-pleasing shelter/home in a place surrounded with natural beauty.  In addition, I would like to live in community with people who are adventurous, open to new ideas, and kind.

My sister and I recently returned from a mini-trip to Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.  We enjoyed warm weather, sunshine, dips in the Atlantic Ocean—even jumped a few waves—and walks along the beach while appreciating the beauty around us.

Isle of Palms Beach, looking toward Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina.

The beach is one place, but not the only place, where I find beauty and peace. 

Front-row seating while observing the continuous change in the ocean and on the shore entices me.

Camouflaged, beach wildlife.  (Photo by Betty Mennuti.)

Blooming bouquet along a path from the road to the seashore. (Photo by Betty Mennuti.)

Mama Lily, one of the residents of the house we occupied in Mt. Pleasant.  Sentient beings we call animals enrich our lives tremendously.  I would not want to live without them.

Happy, water-logged pup.  I love the energy (and reflection) of this dog being walked in the surf.

With my sister, Betty, enjoying a delicious repast in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.

The beach offers a particular kind of beauty, but I also have a love affair with stark, desert landscapes.  I recently sold my house in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but for several years, I counted on the Organ Mountains welcoming me every time I drove down the street towards my (now) former home.

I continue to look for home.  The focus of this essay so far has been on geographical space, however, there’s more to this thing we call home than geography.

Most of us have probably heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are,” or at least some version of that adage.  I’ve been pondering the phrase lately, attempting to mine any wisdom that can be brought to the surface and examined.

We cannot move away from ourselves.  The way we view ourselves impacts and influences us no matter where we go, shaping the way we see and interact with everything around us.  We are contextual beings.  

Since there is no available travel destination without bringing your own self along on the trip, I think it’s vital to be at peace with that self in order to feel at home wherever you land geographically.  For some of us, that’s difficult.  For me, the struggle has been (and still is) learning to feel the emotions I experience—especially ones such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, guilt, and not to deny those feelings or judge them negatively—a  practice that inevitably pushes one in the direction of self-hatred.

I grew up (and lived for several years) in a conservative, Christian fundamentalist community with people who believed (and taught) that we are all born saturated with “original sin”—sin being something God loathes.  Even though the community held tightly to the doctrine that there’s a way out of this sinful conundrum through belief in the efficacy of Jesus’ death to “wash away my sin,” our sinful nature remains with us.  Today, I reject this story that attempts to explain the “human condition,” yet I absorbed enough of the narrative to realize that I was not (and never would be) “good.”

My mother often told me, “You can’t be happy anywhere unless you are happy everywhere.”  What I heard was “stop complaining, so many people have it worse, be thankful for what you’re given.”  So, I stopped saying anything I thought might upset the apple cart.  I learned to ignore and swallow any feelings (usually labeled as sinful) in order to keep the illusion of peace.  As a young adult, I identified so easily with Simon and Garfunkel’s song “I Am a Rock.” My favorite line: “I am a rock.  I am an island.  And a rock feels no pain.  And an island never cries.” 

How do we get to the place where we are at home with ourselves, able to face the world with what we call positive feelings and emotions such as love, joy, hope, and peace when our (alleged) sinful natures continuously invite God’s wrath?

I have struggled all my life, trying desperately to find home somewhere in the world, but truth be told, I’ve never found home within myself.  In patriarchal societies (such as ours), women don’t (and never will) find home.  Perhaps, though, estrangement from the world is part of the human condition and all genders experience that sense of unease and dislocation that being APART from the world, while still being A PART of the world brings.  Things are “off” in everybody’s experience even though women currently occupy a social space that most men cannot (or refuse to) fathom. 

What we can do—even in patriarchal societies—is accept and embrace every aspect of our humanity—including those aspects of ourselves we’ve become accustomed to think of as “bad” or negative.  Would that illuminate the road map with enough light to guide us towards home?

Bio

Esther Nelson is a registered nurse who worked for several years in Obstetrics and Psychiatry, but not simultaneously. She returned to school (Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia) when her children were in college and liked it well enough to stay on as an adjunct professor. For twenty-two years, she taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, Women in the Abrahamic Faiths, and Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of An Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry. She recently retired from teaching.



Categories: Christianity, General, Women's Voices

Tags: , , , ,

13 replies

  1. I think it partly depends on how you see God. If you are taught that God contains only goodness then emotions that are part of our human lives e.g. disappointment, jealousy, anger feel very separate from God. If you believe that God created everything and there can be nowhere that God is not, then God is inside/can be found/contains us and our emotional experiences too. It took me a long time to get to this point myself!!

    I love the look of those mountains. I too am going to find a new home and am searching for somewhere with beauty and friendly artistic kind of people.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for reading and commenting senlowes2013. So much of how many of us see the world depends on what/who we think God is–you’re right. One of the questions I ask (generally) is why do so many people understand God to be a specific, certain way? Many people, though, somehow feel they KNOW what/who God is and are closed off to seeing the divine in any other way/form but theirs. Hence, the problem it’s caused for me–given my experience.

      Hoping you find a home full of beauty and peace!

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  2. Oh Esther how I loved the honesty, the poignancy of this personal essay. This idea of finding home is one I have pondered too. I also need to be surrounded by beauty – in fact this need has driven my life choices in terms of places to live. I have lived in my mountain home for almost 40 years.. the coast before that – Both places have been nurturing spaces that held me. I didn’t realize for many many years that my attachment to these places obscured the inner sense of having no home within – being alienated from myself through self hatred – shrinking is a term that has deep meaning – starved, I starved myself – hoping to rid myself of the disappearing woman and child. The struggle to come to terms with lifetime abandonment by others also obscured the reality that I had abandoned myself. No more. These days I carry that awareness as consciously as I can…I must seek home within myself and part of doing that is accepting the patriarchal woman – the self hater in me – the not good enough mother, as well as the abandoned child – So often if not always inner mirrors outer – I now think my need for beauty on the outside may reflect the inner beauty that is a mirror of the me I cannot see….It’s so hard to be female in this culture – if I had not been blessed with so many loving animals, trees, forest, water, what would have become of me I do not know. P. S. Four years spent in the desert really forced me to confront the emptiness within me – I literally had to go to the desert – there inside mirrored outside – the desert in me.

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  3. PS… I too am still searching for kindness in people – this seems to be a rare commodity these days…

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  4. One of my favorite quotes comes from Ursula LeGuin. She writes (I may mangle it a bit), “You can always go home again as long as you realize that home may be a place you’ve never seen before.” I use this quote as a reminder for myself that finding our way “home” is an adventure that can mean so many things and different things to different people. I have always hated where I live (suburban area of manicured lawns). I found myself here and have been stuck here for long-winded reasons. But what I have learned during the pandemic is how lucky I am to have this space and what treasures there are here that I can focus on more keenly.

    Love your line: “we cannot move away from ourselves.” I hope your adventures bring you home.

    BTW I love your photos. They beautifully showcase your artistic, soulful self.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Janet, for thoughtful reply. Ursula LeGuin’s quote (mangled or not) is rich and spot on, I do believe. Love the thought of finding home in a place I may not have seen before! And, it would be fine if I have seen it before as well!

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  5. Great photos! I disagree with your mom about where we should be happy and you should stop complaining. Yes, we need to search and find our own, individual, best place to call home. Which in this patriarchal society can be very hard to do. I hope you find your ideal community surrounded by your ideal nature. I hope you find a friendly, beautiful community. That’s what we all need, especially in these awful days–community. FAR is a terrific intellectual community, but what we each need is a grounded (literally and metaphorically) living community that will help us feel more fulfilled and happy. A really, truly place to live. Yes, I hope you find your home. Bright blessings!

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  6. Hi Esther —

    Self-love is really hard for any person who has been told — as all women have — that they are not enough and never will be enough. Somehow in the last few years I’ve actually found peace with/in myself. I think it is because I’ve had really bad sleep problems and have to do EFT(the emotional freedom technique) every night multiple times. In my case this practice begins “Even though I’m afraid that I won’t go to sleep, I accept and love myself deeply and completely.” I have to say that sentence in my mind (not out loud) at least 3 times, often many more. And I’ve been doing tis practice every night for years. And amazingly, it has finally sunk in. I do accept and love myself, and that love is deep and complete. I hope the same for you.

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  7. I love this beautiful and insightful post with such wonderful photos! I sometimes think that the mission of our generation is to re-create “homes” for everyone, whether that means creating communities, like women’s circles or intentional housing, that feed our soul where we happen to find ourselves living; making better homes for people in need around us, whether that is a literal physical shelter, or safe spaces in general for people experiencing violence, poverty, or a lack of well being for whatever reason; caring for the Earth, which is the home for all of us; or changing our culture so everyone feels at ease and cared for, “at home.” I think “home” is a good concept for what our world lacks and and you’ve expressed something really important!

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    • Thank you, Carolyn. For much of my life, I felt it was a positive thing to have no attachments to home–home being a concept (as you’ve noted here) that has a lot more meaning than what’s on its surface. I would often talk about my “nomad” existence as a way to cover the pain I felt from being alienated. Am beginning to see that alienation is different from the Buddhist concept of non-attachment. One can (I think) feel “at home” while still holding things loosely (non-attachment). Love your expansive view of what “home” is/can be!

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