Home is Where Well-Being Is
This article of mine was published in PS Magazine, Issue 15 on Page 16. It’s based on a personal story that affirms, without a doubt, that home is where the heart is.
Jackie loves the arts… opera in particular. At her side, years ago in New York City, I recall slipping out of my heels and into my sneakers to make a mad dash from an off-Broadway theater to the Metropolitan Opera House. We were experiencing performing arts nirvana, and we were packing it all into a single weekend. Watching her navigate our theater schedule and the route between events was like observing a ninja. She was in her element, her natural habitat.
Ken, Jackie’s spouse, is a lover of philosophy and intellectual discourse. Thoughtful conversation – even better when it involves different perspectives – is his recreational drug of choice. In the nearly thirty years I’ve known him, he’s always taken delight in exploring the work of a new philosopher, the exchange of ideas, or a chance to understand better what makes someone tick.
Ken is 92 today, and my son and I have dialed up his grandfather to wish him a happy birthday. Not long ago, Ken and Jackie sold their suburban home and moved into a continuing care retirement community in Detroit. For those of us who love them, the transition brought up some common questions about a move like this: How would they adapt? Will they be happy there? Will they be able to create community? Will they feel they belong? As the birthday phone call progresses, I am reminded of the human spirit’s quest to “create home.” In their short time there, Ken has pulled together a large group of residents who are as in love with learning as he is. And true to form, they are people of different minds and contrasting viewpoints. Jackie, too, has created a forum for residents to enjoy the arts together from the comfort of their community – the last event drawing such a crowd that latecomer Ken was turned away at the door.
When we really think about it, home is where we can be who we are, where we experience meaningful connections, and where we feel safe expressing ourselves. Home is also where we choose, and feel supported to pursue, the nature of our engagement and enjoy those things that make our hearts and minds sing. When these key attributes are in place, we experience joy and continue to grow – no matter how old we are or what our abilities may be. At The Eden Alternative, we call these the Domains of Well-Being™: Identity, Connectedness, Security, Autonomy, Meaning, Growth, and Joy. As long as we have the opportunity to meet each of these vital needs, we can create home wherever we find ourselves.
In my work as an educator of the Eden Alternative philosophy, we often ask participants to spontaneously list all of those things that mean “home” to them. Peruse any one of these lists and you will see these Domains of Well-Being captured there. The second part of the exercise involves asking people to randomly remove three or four things from another participant’s list. This simple, symbolic act of deleting pieces of one’s well-being can create quite an outburst in class. Participants describe feeling violated and even “homeless” without those things that have been crossed off of their lists.
Yes, the place or structure can play a huge part in defining our sense of home. But without well-being, it’s all just bricks and mortar. Ken and Jackie taught me this in yet another way many years ago. Throughout their life together, they and their three boys had lived in several homes in the Detroit area. As a very special anniversary surprise for Jackie, Ken had invited the entire family to take a geographical tour of their marriage. Having connected with the current owners of each home they had lived in, he arranged a chronological journey through time. Visiting house by house, we raised a glass to the stories that unfolded there. As Ken and Jackie reflected, it was not the design features or the beauty of the building that stood out in their tales, but rather, it was the scraped knees, the laughter, the losses, the gardens grown, the horses ridden, the pets loved, the goals achieved, and the high jinx endured that bubbled to the top. No matter how many moving trucks graced their days, “home” always went with them, weaving a tapestry of memories and experiences unique to them alone. It’s true… there is no “place” like home. Home lives within us, between us… within the indelible human spirit.
PS Magazine is a fun, engaging lifestyle publication designed for Elders, and The Eden Alternative is privileged to have a regular column. Check out their online issues here. They also offer hard-copy subscriptions published in large print.