The Place Called Home

I have been thinking a lot about the place called home lately. And as a sign I saw at Cracker Barrel the other day eloquently states: “What I Love Most About My Home Is Who I Share It With.” As I have written here before, home to me is wherever my wife, Linda, and I are together. And for the time being, that is an antebellum house we are leasing here in Middle Tennessee. Yet travel writer Pico Iyer has written, “Home is the place where you become yourself…Heaven is the place where you think of nowhere else.” And lately I have been thinking of the sea.

For all of Middle Tennessee’s charms, and they are many, one thing it cannot supply is the beach vibe we love and were blessed to experience during our sabbatical on the island of Nantucket a couple of years ago. As blessed as we are here, I cannot help but reflect fondly upon our time spent enveloped by the sea. Even when we lived for several years in Central Florida before heading to Nantucket we furnished our Cape Cod style cottage with nautical prints of lighthouses and ships. And some of my favorite books include such titles as Gift From the Sea, Return to the Sea, and A Year by the Sea. I guess one could quip that the ocean “floats my boat.”

And so it was with much interest that I read this passage from a thought provoking book titled On Moving: A Writer’s Meditations on New Houses, Old Haunts, and Finding Home Again by Louise DeSalvo: “[The poet] Elizabeth Bishop loved to live in ‘temporary homes by the sea.’ They brought back the ease she’d sometimes felt in Nova Scotia. She liked the simplification, improvisation, and community these places could provide. ‘You live in this Robinson Crusoe atmosphere,’ she wrote, ‘…contriving and inventing.’ It is just such qualities that I find myself craving anew. So we shall see where all this carries us. But in the meantime, I am making myself at home for the holidays and hope you enjoy yours also.

No Place Like Home

As I shared earlier, my wife Linda and I have done a little traveling this summer and it has been fun. During Memorial Day weekend we visited Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Kentucky and to celebrate Independence Day (and our wedding anniversary) we visited Sewanee in Monteagle, Tennessee. And at each place, we were treated to classical music concerts, which we loved.

Yet as nice as each place was to visit, we nonetheless found ourselves uttering that familiar phrase, “be it ever so humble, there is no place like home,” which has gotten me to think about the meaning of home again, particularly since our one-year lease has expired and we are living on a month-to-month basis. The virtues of our present place are many and so we are content to continue living here.

For friends and family who have followed our journey these last three years since we sold our house and furniture to explore a more location-independent lifestyle, the question may arise, “so do thoughts of home mean you are thinking of settling down again?” To which we’d reply, “uh, no.” I’m not sure I even know what settling down would look like for us, but it definitely does not include buying another house. It even feels a little funny staying in the same area for the last couple years, even though we changed addresses.

As regular readers may recall, I posted an entry titled The Meaning of Home about a year ago but here are more thoughts about it. Alain de Botton writes in The Architecture of Happiness: The Secret Art of Furnishing Your Life, “Those places whose outlook matches and legitimates our own, we tend to honor with the term ‘home.’ Our homes do not have to offer us permanent occupancy or store our clothes to merit the name. To speak of home in relation to a building is simply to recognize its harmony with our own prized internal song. Home can be an airport or a library, a garden or a diner.”

And Kirsten Chapman adds in The Way Home, “We are imprinted with an eternal sense of ‘home’—no matter how far we wander. Home can be found in a place, a person, a book, a melody. When we feel it, we know we’re there. It is that safe haven where we find comfort. Where we feel anchored. It is a lifeline.” So for the time being, we are at home here, and if that changes, I will write about it.

The Meaning of Home

With the holidays around the corner it is natural that our thoughts turn to hearth and home. But exactly what is the meaning of home? Many of us think of some idealized version of a house, perhaps situated down a lane or upon a hill, surrounded by a bucolic landscape, maybe in New England or some other picturesque setting.

However, as the saying goes, “a house does not make a home.” What most of us mean when we conjure visions of home is the sense of togetherness we experience with the people we love. It is our relationships with loved ones that constitute a home, not real estate, no matter how beautifully situated.

So to quote another popular saying, “home is where the heart is.” If there is anything that Linda and I have learned over the course of the last couple years is that “home” has become a moving target for us. Home is wherever we are with each other. And as Christians, we’ve adopted the truism that “In Christ” is our permanent address.

In her groundbreaking book The Not So Big Life: Making Room for What Really Matters, Sarah Susanka writes, “Although we normally associate the word “home” with a place that’s built out of bricks and mortar, in fact home is much more than that. It is a feeling and a way of being in one’s life rather than any specific place.”

“We are all looking for home, but we’re looking with the wrong tool,” adds Susanka. “We are trying to find home through more square footage, when in fact the quality of home has almost nothing to do with size. Instead, it’s to be found in the qualities of space rather than the quantities…” This holiday season, here’s to sweet fellowship, regardless of the square footage.

The Touchstones of Our Lives

I was reading a southern lifestyle magazine at the bookstore today and came across a thought-provoking article titled “Stuff, Sweet Stuff” by Julia Reed. And she shared a term I had all but forgotten: touchstone. According to the dictionary, a touchstone is “something that is used to make judgments about the quality of other things.” In other words, it is a sort of measuring stick by which you value your stuff relative to other stuff.

For example, when my wife and I radically downscaled our stuff in order to live more lightly, we very intentionally waded through our things, weighing whether or not each item deserved a valued place in our final collection of treasures. Things like my college diploma and picture of my grandmother made the cut while my golf clubs and tennis rackets did not. I quit playing both sports but the other items were touchstones in my life, mementos that I valued enough to keep toting on my journey.

As Reed writes: “For me, home is where you find the touchstones of your life…But I’m actually a bit of a vagabond—I just need to know I can take my nest with me when I go. And that’s the thing about touchstones: Unlike a house, you can take them with you. After all, generations of Southerners have made a semi-profession out of toting around and lavishly tending to family heirlooms and prized possessions—though that’s not exactly what I have in mind.”

Of Hearth and Home

As yet another year draws to a close I am reflecting on what a huge year of transition it has been for my wife and me. At this time last year we were enjoying a welcome sabbatical on the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts for the winter before an ill-fated attempt to relocate to the Portsmouth, New Hampshire area, where we were nonetheless able to sell a couple of vehicles of ours that had outlived their usefulness.

And as regular readers know, come spring we headed to Florida to gather some of our belongings from family before returning halfway here to the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee, which we love. Since moving here we have renewed our appreciation of hearth and home, as we moved every six months or so before signing a year’s lease of an apartment in an historic building in downtown Franklin, which includes a fireplace, albeit a closed one.

To help compensate for the lack of a working fireplace I downloaded an application [complete with crackling sounds] for use on our computer and we visit our local Cracker Barrel on cold days to soak up the ambience of their fireplace. It has been fun placing our stockings and Christmas cards on the mantel during the holidays and otherwise celebrating this most festive time of year. We are thankful to be closer to family and friends nowadays and welcome the return to our southern roots, not the least of which involves good old fashioned homestyle cooking, even if not over a fire.

The Psychology of Place

Writer Russell Banks observed about the psychology of place: “All travel writing that’s of lasting interest—writing that is written by writers as travelers, not travelers as writers—is really written to make a point about home…which leads one to conclude that the best travel writers are people who are at bottom unsure of the nature and limits of home and their relation to it. They move out of the that…they can look back and see what’s true there.”

As reflective sojourners, my wife and I are still in the process of looking back and seeing “what’s true there” after selling our house last year and redefining what home means for us in this new phase of our lives. And we both agree that while there are facets of home ownership that we miss, we are convinced that we made the right move and are very much enjoying the fruits of it.

What enriches our experience exponentially is the realization that we are walking out the will of God for our lives, of which we are continually reminded in ways both big and small. For example, upon relocating here to Franklin, we landed the first place we looked at living, we leased the first car we test drove, and Linda got the first job she inquired about, all within about a month of moving to unknown territory during a poor economy.


As I mentioned in an earlier post, the first thing you see as you enter Nantucket Harbor is the Brant Point lighthouse, which dates to 1746 and is the second oldest lighthouse in America. One of the neat things about living here during the winter is seeing it nautically decorated for Christmas with the Coast Guard’s crossing of oars in the center of a festooned wreath, reminding one and all of this faraway isle’s maritime heritage.

As we soon learned upon our arrival here nearly two months ago, “washashores” is the official term used to describe folks like us who move here from “America,” as off-island is referred to by locals. And while we may be washashores we have enjoyed a very warm welcome. Indeed, one of the pleasant surprises about life here is how friendly the people generally are, an attribute I think results from braving winters together on a secluded island.

In Walden, Thoreau observed, “At length the winter set in good earnest ... and the wind began to howl around the house as if it had not had permission to do so till then . . . I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.” While we don’t have a fireplace here like we did in Florida [go figure] today is the warmest first day of winter on record here, at a balmy 55 degrees!

In closing, I leave you with the observation of Moby Dick author Herman Melville: “Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than a lighthouse. Look at it: a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background.” And home to washashores.