No Place Like It
His hospital room was sterile in appearance, antiseptic in smell, and clinical in sound, like all the rest. The white eraser board displayed the date and the day of the week, the nurse’s first name, and a contorted smiley face. The volume from the wall-mounted TV drowned out the rhythmic noises pulsing from several monitors attached to his person. The food tray with uneaten peas and unopened Jell-O was deserted in a corner, awaiting collection.
My dad was in the best place for the medical attention he needed, but he still felt displaced. However, when told he could go home as soon as hospice care installed a hospital bed in his living room, he was noticeably more content. Was his feeling of displacement due to the tedium of a prolonged hospital stay, the unappetizing food, or compromised dignity in having strangers tend to his bodily functions? Conversely, was his contentment due to a profound sense of security in being allowed to die peacefully in his own home? A security in being surrounded by the familiar?
“The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned,” wrote Maya Angelou. Home is a place we may possess, but it tends to possess us—especially when we move away from it or the place no longer exists. It’s the location we return to physically, mentally, and spiritually because it often engenders security and stability in us. Home—the likely go-to place when we’re feeling displaced in life—is a state of mind as much as it is an edifice or a location.
Has homesickness ever prompted you to occasionally drive by your family dwelling of long ago? (My sister does this so frequently, I wonder if the current owners suspect she may be a stalker!) Does the home of your childhood still recur vividly in your dreams? Have you ever experienced an indescribable feeling of familiarity when returning home to your mattress and pillow after time away?
“Home” also creates a sense of belonging that goes beyond a family domicile. For example, recall the sensation of being home again in a US airport after a trip outside the country, or what it felt like to return to your spiritual home—your parish church—after a lengthy absence from the pandemic lockdown.
Jesus the Galilean was in his early thirties when he left his childhood home in Nazareth to dwell in Capernaum, without putting down roots there (Matthew 4:12–13). However, before his crucifixion, he returned to Capernaum and journeyed through his homeland region of Galilee where he began his public itinerant ministry. He also visited the area across the Jordan River where John’s first baptisms began (John 7:1, 10:40). Perhaps this final trip allowed him to see a few old acquaintances, neighbors, and extended-family members. Perchance, was he also feeling homesick? Lonesome to be among his own people and nostalgic for the region’s picturesque, hilly landscape, fields of wheat, barley, and millet, and vineyards of black grapes and olives? If so, it’s comforting to think that our Lord may have experienced a feeling of security in being surrounded by the familiar shortly before he died.
Most people would concur that “there’s no place like home!” Contrary to popular belief, the phrase did not originate in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. Rather, it first appeared in a September 1781 English newspaper article:
“But this maxim mind—No place like Home
For safety, will you find?”