My wife has just returned after six months away. (Actually it was only 3 days. It just felt longer!) When she got home we hugged each other and said how good it was to be home. That we had missed each other etc. (We’re still quite romantic after 30 years of marriage.) I began to wonder what “Home” means. There are endless quotes about “Home”. Here are a few.”Home is where the heart is” (Pliny); “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” (Robert Frost); “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”(Jane Austen); “Home wasn’t built in a day” (Jane Sherwood Ace) My sat nav has a “home” button which I find reassuring. No matter where I am this will find me a route home. So, home is both a place from which we travel. A place to which we return. A place where we stay. A place where we belong.We are increasingly asked for our home address in shops, on-line etc. An address implies that we are settled somewhere.
As a counsellor many of my patients do not have a home. The same was true of many of my psychiatric patients when I was nursing. They had a house. An address. But often no home.The picture above captures this idea. Home is where the heart is. And I have seen so many people who have no home for their heart. (Hence the phrase “My heart wasn’t in it.”) And where one’s heart is, is home. When I began my nursing career at the Maudsley hospital, there was a system whereby we could “guest” someone for a day or two without formally admitting them. This guest was sometimes a patient whom we knew who needed some sanctuary for a short time. Other times the person was unknown and needed an assessment. It was a generous provision. It provided a temporary home for a “homeless” individual whose heart and home were both under too much pressure. (Sadly there is no room for this generosity in the current NHS. Nor can I foresee a day when such generosity of spirit will be allowed to return to our wards.Perhaps some enterprising “Care provider” can develop the spaces under our bridges. A camp bed. Some basic food. A limited stay. There is a business opportunity here. We might call it Care in the Community…)
The word “home” has an interesting set of roots. Some of its origins are in the idea of a village, an estate or a world. Any village, community etc has a variety of inhabitants. Some we know well. Others we nod to as we go out. Some we avoid. Some we ignore because we don’t them. But they and we are all part of the community. Some have been here for centuries and still live in the house in which they were born. Others moved in last year. Some moved after a short time. Some after a long while. Working with a mixed community is part of my work as a counsellor. A patient comes to see me and I say something like “Tell me about yourself.” They then tell me a story about a community of selves. Some are loved and valued. Some are less loved but are still introduced to me! Some are mentioned in an undertone of “We don’t talk about them”. Some are only mentioned after a number of sessions when it feels safe to acknowledge their existence. All are part of the inner community.
One patient came to me after some work with a counsellor who worked in a different way to me. They arrived with their autobiography neatly bound and wrapped in a pretty ribbon .My patient read me a few paragraphs from this lovely volume. I listened and picked up on some of the references and footnotes. It soon became apparent that these held the real story of my patient’s internal village. The footnotes were all about the parts that they wanted to disown. We are still working through these footnotes! It is a process that is painful at times. But in the work a truer picture is emerging. The village is not quite the one originally described. But it is a real village. Not a fairy tale .My patient can now locate themselves properly. They can acquaint themselves with their true family and friends.
I increasingly think of my work as being about helping people to find their way home. To find out about their inner village. I was told a story by one of my patients who had been on holiday. They spent some time leaving the main city and travelling to smaller outlying communities. This became a rich metaphor for our work together.We visited the outlying communities that comprised their inner world. We saw how community Y related to the main centre. And vice versa. It was a journey of discovery with many new connections and links.
I’ve included John Denver singing “I want to live”. That seems a good way to sum up this blog.