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?
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.