By Linda Baron
In writer Verlyn Klinkenborg’s own words, “[there is] a big difference between feeling at home and being home” (Klinkenborg 2012). As people everywhere are forced to stay inside their houses, I frequently think back to this quote and wonder how many people actually consider their house to be their home. A news story about students who planned to study abroad and now are stuck there alone comes to mind. As does a documentary about grandparents who live at retirement shelters and cannot see their families because they are at higher risk of catching Covid-19. Examples like these make me think about how important it is to have a place that feels like home: especially while every public place you normally might enjoy going to is on lockdown.
In his essay “The Definition of Home,” Klinkenborg distinguishes between feeling at home and being home. He argues that when a person is at home, he or she will not feel at home since home “is a place so profoundly familiar you [do not] even have to notice it” (Klinkenborg 2012). Home is something one only becomes aware of when it is absent. Most people probably know about this concept because of love: Numerous love songs are written about a lost love that could only be appreciated by the lovers only after it ended. In her song “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell sings “don’t it always seem to go, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone” (Mitchell 1970). She uses a metaphor of a green area that gets replaced by a parking lot to emphasize that usually we only appreciate the worth of what we have once it is no longer available.
Klinkenborg also lists different types of relationships one can have with the concept of home: He writes that “[s]ome people, as they move through their lives, rediscover home again and again. Some people never find another after once leaving home. And of course, some people never leave the one home [they have] always known.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines “familiarity” as the “close acquaintance with or knowledge of something” (Oxford University Press 2016). According to Klinkenborg’s definition of home as a “profoundly familiar” place (Klinkenborg 2012), it thus should be possible to cause a place to become one’s home with time. Since these days our house is the place where we spend the most time, we cannot help but grow more familiar with it. Maybe right now is the time that many people re-define what home is for themselves.
However, people who feel deeply homesick right now are certainly uninterested in replacing their old home with a new one. When someone is holding on to the memory of a (temporarily) lost home, he or she is unlikely to want to change his or her opinion about it. For these people, feeling at home is probably a hard thing to do these days. Still, I believe that there are small steps one can take toward feeling more at home. Recreating certain visual aspects of one’s home, talking to close friends and family on the phone or simply setting up pictures of loved ones might work. It did for me.
But whether we feel at home or are home right now, this pandemic has changed the perception of home for lots of us. We learned to appreciate the advantages our homes offer us and got annoyed when these homes could not meet new exceptions we suddenly had for them. I myself have never been someone who likes spending time at home. But during this pandemic, I have learned the importance of having a stable home to return to at the end of a day.
“familiarity” OED Online. Oxford University Press, 2016. Web. 4 December 2020.
Klinkenborg, Verlyn. “The Definition of Home.” Smithsonian Magazine. May 2012. Web. 4 Dec 2020.
Mitchell, Joni. “Big Yellow Taxi.” Ladies of the Canyon. A&M, Los Angeles, 1970.