Register Tuesday | June 18 | 2019

What is a "Home"?

Object in mirror are closer than they appear.

“Where is home for you?”

I was recently asked this question, and I found myself speechless and confused. The only answer that came to mind was Halifax. I’m not technically from Halifax, but I could consider myself an adopted Haligonian for the past six years. I could also describe myself as an Ontarian or a Quebecois.

My father was in the army for twenty-five years. My family and I, not unlike other military families, have moved from one house to another, one province to the next. We were fortunate enough to be given time to settle for an average period of seven years before packing up our belongings once again.

I was born in Quebec City, where most would consider my “home” to be. I was raised in Kingston, among other contenders. Certainly, the origins of my name could trace me back to la belle province, or what my parents consider home to them.

Learning to adapt to different environments, cultures and languages seemed daunting at the time. The move from Quebec to Kingston, Ontario, proved challenging. My father’s limited English barely got us through the first few months. My mother, plugged into her cassette player, kept repeating simple words and sentences in the hopes of learning a second language in the span of a few weeks. “My name is Céline. Je m’appelle Céline.” My sister and I both knew our home was far away. Nevertheless, eight years later, we were saddened to leave Kingston for Halifax.

Maybe it isn’t necessarily where you’re from as much as where you feel you’re from. Everyone looks at their hometown with reluctance, sometimes wishing they were from somewhere else. For example, while in Halifax, I’d often choose Quebec as my home, even though I left by the age of eight and never lived there as an adult. Now that I’m living in Montreal, I feel as though I’ve been branded by my (borrowed) maritime ways.

Christoph Ebert, a self-proclaimed philosopher and the man behind his own personal movement “realize2actualize,” posted a video on YouTube in 2007 in which he talked about his concept of “home.” “Leaving my home in Germany and becoming homeless, I came to realize I was at home wherever I was,” he said. “It’s all transitory.”

Nomads like Ebert aren’t hard to come across. My fellow journalism grad Sarah Mann is the same. “I’m a nomad. Home is wherever my kitchen is! Home means homemade cookies and banana bread. Oh, and home is where my husband is, too,” she wrote to me.

It’s said that, in 23 A.D., Gaius Plinius Secundas (or Pliny the Elder), a Roman military office and biographer, coined the idiom “home is where the heart is.” Since then, the quote made its way to Hallmark cards and became the cheesiest possible answer to someone’s existential blues. Is it emotional attachment that instils this feeling of belonging, or is it the level of comfort one finds in a place?

Psychologists and therapists often talk about “building home”—safe havens for yourself and the people you care for. Jeanne Moore, a psychologist, published an essay on the meaning of “home” and the past three decades of research on the topic. As she mentions in Placing Home in Context, people have a tendency to interchange the meaning of home and house. Moore explains that while the “house” came to define the comfort of middle-class families, the concept of “home” gained meaning in a different way. She explains that recent studies show “home” gains meaning when one journeys away from it. Could this be the answer to my geographical confusion?

“While I’ll have a home somewhere in Los Angeles, I’ll also be ‘at home’ in many other places,” Sean Bonner, a blogger and public speaker, wrote. He has a point: younger generations have become hyper-mobile. They’re nomads without having necessarily made that decision. Home can be many places at a time, making the answer to “where are you from” a little more vague.

Maybe I haven’t found that special spot yet, or perhaps, I haven’t had the time to completely appreciate the comfort of one place. Either way, if Pliny is right, and if home really is where the heart is, I must have dropped mine somewhere along the way.

(Follow Mick on Twitter.)

Related on maisonneuve.org:

—Postcard from Vancouver
—Vintage Aerial Views of Montreal
—Portraits of Changing Paris

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