Given the housing climate of the past few years, I had planned to blog about losing one’s home later this the week, but yesterday’s earthquakes in New Zealand have forced the issue to the fore.
Growing up in Northern California, along the San Andreas fault, I am familiar with the sounds of approaching quakes – as if a hundred huge trucks are rumbling toward you; the sudden still in the air as wildlife, sensing impending danger, retreats for safety; the squeaking of wooden doorways and walls shifting uneasily; the chatter of glasses and dishes as the house starts to shimmy; the swinging light-fixtures, falling books; mostly, the unreality of it all – solid earth suddenly not solid at all.
In Christchurch, New Zealand, houses of worship old and new were severely damaged, or collapsed in rubble. Homes were engulfed in mud or crushed under enormous boulders; sides of buildings sheared off. New Zealand’s largest glaciers calved, sending 30 million tons of ice into Tasman Lake. Early estimates of 65 deaths are almost certainly far below the total.*
But people lose their homes in other less dramatic ways. In the third quarter of 2009, alone, 937,840 homes were in foreclosure. That’s almost a million families facing homelessness in just a three month period – and that’s tacked on to the 2.2 million homes foreclosed in 2008. The ripple effect of lost stability and income impact on mental and physical health, and can cause behavior issues for vulnerable children. There may be feelings of shame or inadequacy.
The loss of one’s home might be due to fire, war, or environmental disaster. And sometimes we don’t leave the home, but the home leaves us.
What do we do? How do we find home again?
I was a nineteen year old, away from my parental home, when I learned the answer. I’d been struggling to adjust to life on the East Coast, sharing a dorm room, and not making a success of it. One of my teachers, Mrs. Yehudis Groner, told me about her childhood. Her family had fled the Soviet Union, traveling through Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, France, Cuba, and finally the U.S. “Where ever we stopped, my mother unpacked a few particular items. When we saw those things, we were home. It didn’t matter where we were.”
The idea of home as a portmanteau has stayed with me all these years. I set out my “few particular items” - some family photos, a childhood talisman or two, our extra large mezuzah that my husband had written for me as a proposal gift; then I look around at my family, and we are home.
* If you wish to donate to aid rebuilding efforts in New Zealand, here’s one way.