Where the Heart Is//

Where the Heart Is: Where are we?

As a philosophy student, I spend an unbelievable amount of time defining different terms. I have yet to come across easy-to-define ones — our world is one of nuance and so is our language.

The most difficult term I have come across is not one I encountered in a philosophy course. Rather, it's one I've had to grapple with elsewhere: Home.

How do you define something that means so many different things to so many different people?

There is a "home" that we call by that name for pragmatics. We may, for example, use "home" as a relative term when travelling (you might say, "Let's go home after dinner" in reference to a hotel) — not because it's what home really feels like, but because it is convenient and it works, within the context we are using it.

Then there is "home" as in where you currently live. Perhaps there's an air of pragmatics to this version too. After all, it becomes exhausting after a while to find ways around the word "home" when you're referring to the place you return to sleep at night. That doesn't negate the fact that it may not quite carry the feeling of home you're thinking of either.

There is also a feeling associated with home that might come with a song (What Makes You Beautiful, perhaps), or a favourite book or movie (like The Fault In Our Stars, on both counts). Maybe it’s more so about the smell that comes with the month of May that you cannot get at any other time of the year.

But this begs the question: why do these things feel like home? Do they have some sort of shared quality?

It seems to me that what unites these things is a shared root that branches out into all the things that found you during your most formative years. The things that are somehow akin to the feeling of that last turn onto your driveway cueing you to wake up at the end of your car ride nap. These are the things that, in combination, make up the deeper piece at which I’m hinting: childhood.

There is something so deeply homely about childhood, isn’t there? Your childhood home and neighbourhood, the streets you grew up biking around in, your favourite playground growing up. There is a familiarity that comes with that corner of the world which you consider your own, and likely always will.

These things are not to be underestimated in significance, but I think as adults we tend to underestimate them because we think they’re childish and therefore not worth thinking about. Yet, in our attempt to escape this notion of childishness, we spend so much of our time acting childish anyway, don’t we?

Then comes another question: how do you account for that age-old saying, “Home is where the heart is”? Well, recall what I said about our world being one of nuance.

There are two pieces to the puzzle here: first, I think in a lot of ways, “the heart” remains in our childhood. We’re creatures of habit that inherently love familiarity. So we stay attached to what we know, and often what we know is what we grew up with. That’s not to say we’re necessarily stuck with what we learned growing up, but it is easier to remain within that framework (what we tend to opt for) than to leave it and forge a new path.

The second piece is that the heart remains with certain people who were also incredibly important to your formative years. Your family is very likely a part of this, to be sure. It’s unlikely though, that they, alone, form the full picture. What likely makes up the whole, in addition to your family, is a combination of friends, neighbours, mentors, and teachers.

For those of us who immigrated as children, there is added complexity — our first home remains even further than the one we moved from as adults to go to university. There is a culture, plus extended (sometimes even immediate) family elsewhere, from which we may have been removed for many years. But no matter the amount of time that goes by — and this isn’t something I can explain — it remains home in the truest of ways.

So when we move away from our home, however, we choose to define the word, usually for the sake of school, what are we left with? Is university, or the city in which it’s situated, meant to become home? Or will the place(s) we came from remain home? Whether you opt for the former or the latter, it’s unlikely that you’ll find the same absolute and unambiguous feeling of home that you had as a child, wherever you are.

It’s difficult (perhaps even impossible) to recreate that feeling once it’s gone. To put it pessimistically, c’est la vie. But optimistically — or as optimistic as I can imagine, at least — we can say that the nostalgia from what we remember of home will provide comfort when we need it, while we hope that something, somewhere down the line, will eventually compare to that absoluteness of home we felt as children.