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When speaking with those at the end of life it is not uncommon to hear of an intense longing for home. This may be with reference to spiritual beliefs about what lies beyond the grave, or, for those living in a residential care facility for the elderly, or skilled nursing facility due to health concerns, this longing may be entirely physical. The idea of home, both spiritual and physical, is deeply rooted in the psyche because of our need for safety, shelter, and security in a world that is often anything but. For those suddenly marooned in a new home that is not their home, it does not matter how many of the old trappings are transported to decorate the walls, tables, and nightstands of their current dwelling: there is simply no substitute for one’s original sense of belonging. I once sat with a woman who was not sure if she would ever return home. I asked her what it would be like to entertain the notion of remaining in her current place indefinitely. Her eyes emptied and her presence shrunk. She said the thought was unbearable. Home is where her heart is.


For those blessed with a haven for the heart at one time or another, however brief or long, home is very close to a sense of the holy, a place of release and surrender, and for being with those most dear to us in the whole world. Home, once taken away, leaves a kind of photographic imprint, a mosaic of memories of love lost and found. The human longing to belong is central to our sense of identity because we realize deep down, in ways often unarticulated, we have no permanent home. We are pilgrims, each and every one of us, though, as Tolkien knew, not all who wander are lost. When the wandering eventually becomes too tiresome, and the end approaches, the desire for home often intensifies. At life’s precipice we may realize a radical thought, that home is already close, and always has been, for true homecoming begins within.


Feeling not at home, and at times uncomfortable in our own skin, is perfectly human. The longing for home is a source of such discomfort, but also an opening, a stretching of our gaze to see what perhaps we have not wanted to see before, namely, this longing may never cease. The irony of homecoming is the revelation we have been looking for something we cannot really have, for the human spirit is never quite satisfied, or settled. When we long for home and it is not within reach, there are no words to ease the emptiness, and no wisdom to erase the desire. Even if home becomes unattainable, it may be true that the longing is actually better than the having, and the hope of home better than no home at all.


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