A home truth

For most of my life I have taken most things for granted.

Family, safety, the next meal, job, career, happiness, health and life, and I’m not sure whether my survival from cancer eight years ago has weakened or strengthened my confidence that I will continue to live.

It’s all about familiarity, I suppose, and it is affluence that props up the familiarity. And more familiarity means less appreciation.

There is one thing I take for granted more than all the others, and that is home. I mean, from time to time, be it rarely or more often, I worry about my family, my safety and their safety, my job, my health and my life, but it never occurs to me that I could be without a home, without my home.

Many people are without a home, and I suspect many people with an actual residence are without the sense of home. So it is possible, I have to admit, that an upheaval could leave me homeless, even homeless in my own house.

There’s more to home than residence and there’s more to homelessness than the absence of a residence. Above all, I think, home is a refuge. It is a shelter not only from the weather, from the elements, but from the big world outside.

We can move our home, we can change home, but we get homesick when we’re away from home for too long. Homesickness may be not so much a longing as a need to recharge and refresh in the way we can do only at home.

It is where we go to be safe, but what of people who are at risk within their home?

A great many Australians are under threat in their homes from another person who calls that place home, and it occurs to me that the loss or degrading of this sense of home could be at least as traumatic as the verbal or physical assault. Being deprived of your home must have its own psychological impact.

Imagine feeling compelled to retreat each day to a home in which you were fearful and abused! Life is at a low pass for those who dread going home.

A residence need not be fixed, of course, and so neither need a home be fixed. For many people home is a caravan, even a hotel room, although I’ve noticed that people who stay in hotels often come to detest the experience. I suppose a tent can be a home, and while I know that drawing the flap of a sleeping bag might go some way to closing off the outside world the bag could hardly be home.

Above all home is a place, a place we can call our own even if we don’t own it, but I do believe that the uncertainty of home has a greater impact on many people who rent than we realise. Being forced to vacate a house that has become home must be traumatic, and the home at the next house will be qualified by the threat of eviction.

Further sullying the renter’s sense of home is that so much of it is subject to the landlord’s approval – pets, hanging pictures, gardens – and the private space that is home is open to inspection by the landlord, and a procession of prospective buyers if he so wishes, with very little notice. As a young fellow renting flats I always felt that my home, such as it was, had been invaded by inspecting agents or prospective buyers.

Such as it was? A home is no less home because of the absence of trappings, even if it may be less comfortable.

My sense of home is more dependent on the presence of my wife than any other factor, and I expect that this is common among men whose wife has been the homemaker. I doubt that the reverse is true, that a woman’s sense of home is dependent, or as dependent, on the presence of husband.

My home seems empty when my wife is not there for anything more than a day or so, and she would say that home is more restful when I’m not there.

I expect that a serious loss for men who’ve lost their wife, through separation or death, is the loss of the sense of home. Women do seem to live alone more happily than men after a relationship has come to an end.

We who take home for granted assume homeless means houseless, when the loss is much more than that.

What is home to you? Have you been homeless? Do you accept that homeless is more than houseless?

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