Saturday, September 28, 2013
not my actual home, but a reasonable facsimile
It's a surreal feeling I'm experiencing. After a mere two nights in the dorm, I'm back home for a visit. I've been away from my home, wherever it was, and away from my parents, wherever they were, for much, much longer than the two short nights I've just spent away from this house I've called home for about two years. I'm lucky to have many people in my life who are like parents to me, and who have taken me in either when my parents were unable to care for me, or when my parents wanted a vacation and left me in the care of those others they trusted to care for me, with well-placed trust in all but two cases, or when it was I who wanted the vacation and left with people whom my parents trusted to adequately supervise me. I've even been in a situation where I had to be away from home for a time because of a mental illness that could not be adequately addressed without my leaving home. Still, each time I returned from wherever I was back home, where I belonged. This is the first time in my short personal history that my return home has been a visit. Even though things wouldn't seem to be all that much different than they were three nights ago, when I last slept in my bed in this house, there is a tangible distinction. I can feel it. I don't know if anyone else can.
My brother is home this weekend, too. He's already been in the dorms for two years, so it's nothing new to him. He's been home to "visit" before. He's by nature a little less introspective than I -- he doesn't typically think things through quite as deeply as I tend to -- so the significance may never have struck him. Then again, perhaps it did, and I was just too wrapped up in my own world to have noticed.
My family's most recent move from northern California to the central coast solidified a feeling within me that I think I'd had been vaguely aware of for many years, which is that home isn't a city or a building, even if you've lived in the the building you formerly called home for many years. It's not that one cannot grow sentimentally attached to the house in which one dwelled for many years, but it wasn't really the house that was home. Home is about family and the people with whom one spends his or her life, or perhaps, as in the cases of those who live alone, animals, who are another form of family to those of us who deeply love our pets, the furniture and other objects with which one chooses to surround himself or herself, representing past and present attachments or other memories, those who live nearby, the neighborhood, the grocery store or pharmacy one frequents, the sidewalks along which one ambles along with a dog or on a lone walk or run -- not the structure that housed a family or a person by him or herself.
Home is so much more than a place. It's even more than the collective essence of the people and animals who share the space with you, the furniture and appliances, or cookware and dishes that you use daily, the unique scent that every living space possesses, altered to some degree by whomever moves in and makes the place his, her, or their own. All of thatgoes into the concept of home, but home is really a state of mind. It's a sanctuary -- a place you go in times when you need to take refuge, or in times when you have joy to share that you know no one else will appreciate or internalize to the degree that will those who share home with you. Home, if you're uck enough to be in a good speace physcially and emotionally, is a remedy for loneliness. Robert Frost described it as, "Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in."
Also home with us this weekend is my "cousin" (the quotation marks are there to signify that, while he is a cousin by blood, I consider him a brother, and I know my parents consider him their son; he doesn't have the shared history that Matthew and I have, coming from a combined experience in the womb to sharing so many other aspects of infancy, chidhood, and youth, but that does not make him NY less a brother to me ) -- the one you may remember from a little over a year ago when my Uncle Michael flew to South America to bring him back to the United States to be treated for a grave illness he had contracted while serving an LDS mission in South America. For the sake of respecting his privacy, I'll refer to him as Josh. He attends a university in Los Angeles. He has a bedroom at our home and one at the home of my Uncle Michael and Aunt Joanne. He is no longer welcome in the home of the man and woman who spawned him. I sometimes wonder what he thinks. I would like to think he knows he has two homes in which he is equally welcome and equally a part of the family, as opposed to the possible thought that maybe he considers himself a stray who has no home but is instead at the mercy of family members who are willing to offer him a bed. I sometimes wonder if it would have been better for him if one or the other of his uncles had taken him in. (Uncle Steve would have been equally willing, but that uncle lives a little further from his university, so it's more convenient for his home to be at our house or at my Uncle Michael's) so he knew clearly where he belonged. I hope he understands that the intent is for him to feel equally loved and welcome both places, and not that he is a burden such that he must be shared. He's not in any way a burden; either family can easily afford his presence, the cost of his education, healthare, and anything else he needs. Both families feel more complete when he is around. He is the very antithesis of a burden.
The situation of my former cousin who is now my brother brings up another aspect of the concept of home. I haven't always felt this way, but I now know (and know such has always been the case even though I didn't know it at times when I was younger) that there are things I could do, from minor acts of stupidity to the commission of heinous crimes, that would cause my parents to be extremely disappointed in me or even to feel deeply ashamed of me. Still, I know that, no matter what it was that I did to cause them to feel that way, they would still love me and could not stop themselves from loving me even if they tried. Unconditional love is or at least should be the foundation of the concept of home.
I sometimes wonder if this situation of abandonment will negatively impact Josh in his ability to form attachments in the future. I would like to hope that the unconditional love Josh receives from my parents and his other two biological uncles and their wives on our side of his family compensates sufficiently from the psychological abuse he was dealt at the hands of those who brought him into this world. He' a bright and seemingly resilient young man. I hope his own resources and what emotionl support those of us who love him, including his maternal grandmother, are able to provide will boost him over any hurdles he encounters at least in part as a result of the emotional abuse he suffered, not to mention the remaining physical reminders of his horrendous situation in South America. Life isn't problem-free for any of us. It just seems as though in his early adulthood, Josh has been faced with a little more than his share of adversity. I hope life doesn't continue to throw roadblocks in his path.
I wonder just what it is missing from Josh's birth parents' literal and metaphorical DNA that would allow them to turn their backs on a son for making the only choice anyone but an idiot --- and he's no idiot -- would have made, as opposed to sticking it out in the mision field to the bitter end, making do with the substandard medical care that would have been offered eventually, but too little and too late to save him, and returning home in a body bag or coffin. While I wouldn't have agreed with their decision, I would at least see the motivation behind my aunt's and uncle's behavior had Josh, say for the sake of argument, emerged from the closet and announced to all the world that he was homosexual, or had he committed some other act that flies equally flagrantly in the face of the teachings of their church. He did nothing aeven remotely against the teachings of their church, however. He simply sought medical treatment on the recommendation of a competent physican, and followed the doctor's orders to relocate to an area where the blood supply was relatively safe before undergoing a life-saving surgical procedure. What is missing from the consciences of his parents, from their senses of parenthood and the bond they -- especially his mother -- should feel with her son -- a bond that virtually nothing should be able to penetrate in anything resembling a normal mother/son relationship? What is wrong with this woman -- my father's very own sister -- that she would choose religion [especially in the way she did, in which the action her son took was not a breach of any rule or teaching of the family's faith; it was merely a matter of face-saving and tacit competition with other members of their local congregation, whose sons typically return home from their missions with honor] over motherhood to the degree that she would have preferred to have greeted the remains of her son at the airport to meeting up with a still living but gravely ill son whom came home early for medical reasons? Is this essentially the same prototype of a mother we hear about in various cases on Headline News who stands by idly while the current man in her life abuses or kills her child from a prior relationship in the animalistic male instinct of eliminating the seed of another male? (And my aunt and uncle don't even have that lame non-excuse as an excuse. Unless there's something about their lives none of the rest of the family knows about, her husband is the biological parent to all of her nine children.) Had my aunt not been fortunate (and I use the word fortunate in the most loose and ironic senses available literarily, as I don't think she could have done much worse in the selection of a husband had she chosen a mate randomly by standing at the exit of a prison and taking the thirteenth guy who was paroled and walked through the gates on a given day) enough to have remained married to her original spouse and the father of her children, might she have been one of the women jailed for failing to report or to do anything to prevent her latest hook-up from beating her child to death? Or is it some weird religious form of Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy? Did my aunt, and perhaps her husband, so strongly desire the sympathy and admiration of their religious community that they were willing to sacrifice the life of their son to the cause of spreading their faith to the far corners of the world in order to make themselves appear more holy unto the Lord in the eyes of their religious peers? All I can conclude is that these are sick minds at work, and I suspect the remaning children would have been better off left in foster care, where they were placed following the incident in which I was left in an incapacitated and largely immobile condition to find my own way out of a smoky house.
My dog loves every member of my family unconditionally. It's my opinion, even though my dad disagrees, that the goldfish my brother won eight years ago at some carnival in Modesto, California, and who inexplicably has defeated all sorts of odds to continue to live and breathe, loves us. My dad thinks the fish thinks of nothing but his next meal, but I think he's wrong and that the fish has more feeling than for which my dad gives him credit.
This little blurb has turned into much more of a dissertation than was ever intended. Still, the idea that I'm visiting my own home for the first time is a most foreign feeling. It's likely going to be this way forever, although presumably my visits will seem less temporary over Christmas and summer breaks. For that matter, if I complete medical schoool and decide to fulfill my medical residency near this community, I may choose to live here rather than to get an apartment. My parents have said they will leave my room intact until I choose to remove the furnishings. I do find comfort in the thought that my parents aren't trying to kick me out of the nest, and that they tell me I'm welcome here when I'm forty-five if I need to be here. I certainly hope such is not the situation for me, but the idea that home is somewhere I can always return is a reassuring thought.
My dad is looking over my shoulder now and reading what I've typed. He's telling me that I'm attaching far too much significance to having spent two consecutive nights in a dorm. For all he knows, he said, I could pack it in next week and say that dorm life is not for me. Except when he's working or one of us is critically injured or ill, he's seldom serious about anything.
My father's scorn or kidding aside, there's an almost phantagsmoric (one of those old SAT words for which I seldom have a use) feeling in being here for the first time on a visitation basis. Nevertheless, the timing is right for me to be on my own, as much it can be called "on my own" when my version of "on my own" is living in a dorm from which I can drive to my old home in no more than five minutes unless someone has created a traffic jam at the exit of the multi-level parking structure because he or she has failed to purchase a parking ticket. My mother's on-campus office is a seven-minute walk from my dorm room. My Aunt Joanne is now practicing medicine in the campus health center, where I will now go if I come down with one of my infamous "barking seal" coughs that is keeping next-door neighbors in rooms in either side of me awake when my father, my Uncle Michael, my Uncle Steve, my Uncle Jerry, my Aunt Heather, or my Uncle Scott are not available to treat me. My version of "on my own" comes with a strong and indestructible safety net.
The KJV edition of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes expresses it in this way: "To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven." My time to move on has come. It's time from me to step off the proverbial penguin feet that have so capably kept me out of harm's way as well as any parent can protect his or her young. The figurative umbilical cord still binding me a a child to both my parents has been severed. My independence has been declared in the form of my move from the family homestead to the university dormitory in which I now reside. It's official now.
This blog is ended. Go now to in peace to love and serve the Lord and to spread one's wings to fly. And if you're the person still messing with my blog, please grow up and find a better hobby. Habitat for Humanity is looking for volunteers.