"I have managed to find solace in considering the notion of home."B-spoque

My relationship has ended. My grandmother has, very sadly, passed on. The COVID situation is worsening day by day, and ennui is setting in at a considerable pace. This period has undoubtedly been difficult, but I have managed to find some solace in introspection, in considering the notion of home. Should you have been misled by the title, this is not a scrupulous analysis of the seminal classic Cheers, but rather captures the sentiment I have found myself trying to deconstruct and reconstruct these past few months.

Admittedly, I have always been a bit disdainful of traditional ideas of home. This can probably be put down to bitterness: I left my birthplace of Manchester at a young age, without really understanding why, and was profoundly affected by the abruptness and unwelcome novelty of it all. I moved to Ireland, continued my education in schools no nicer than my old one, dipped in and out of friendships and ended up feeling pretty dejected. I always saw my house as a temporary fix that I would leave at the earliest opportunity. And, eventually, I did. I ended up going to a boarding school (a brilliant, laissez-faire one at that) in South East England and, at the time, absolutely loved it. I found a pattern of life that suited me, found people who matched my eclecticism, evolved intellectually and learned how to manage the odd bout of depression. When COVID unceremoniously yanked me from the life I, by and large, truly enjoyed and deposited me back to my family home in Dublin, I could only think of getting back as soon as I could.

When the time came to revisit my old school, however, the result was nightmarish. Its surroundings had become a ghost town. The perennial haze of cigarette smoke and coffee steam from our usual café haunt had dissipated, there was no chatter, no buzz, no Fleetwood Mac emanating from the windows of common rooms. My friends who were international boarders weren’t around, and my few remaining friends seemed as dispirited by the whole affair as I did. This proved too much for me to take; so much so that, after only three days, I felt compelled to swiftly leave. I didn’t want this new atmosphere to taint my otherwise happy memories of a home held and lost.

“I wanted to feel safe, comfortable, and indeed, go where people knew my name.”

Stranger still, I felt myself long for Ireland. This was inconceivable to me; surely the point of all my endeavours up until then was to get away? I think some combination of my increased maturity and the experience of being locked down there totally changed my perspective. I wanted to feel safe, comfortable and, indeed, go where people knew my name. After 10 years, I could finally say I truly felt at home in Dublin. Looking back, though we were always comparing it to days of yore where we weren’t constantly fussing about how many metres away from each other we were, we managed to have some good fun over those four months. My old friends and I reconnected in a meaningful way, as did my family, and I appreciated the beauty of the city more than I had ever allowed myself to. This made coming to Cambridge in search of a new and markedly different home challenging.

As for my relationship, I found its breakdown comparable to the sadness of losing a home. There were lingering feelings of grief, of instability. I was always vehemently against commitment, but when I found myself in this situation and in love, much of my previous cool cynicism evaporated. I felt I had a kind of home in this other person. Whether you appreciate the sentiment or feel it positively reeks of codependency, ultimately, feeling such unity with someone in a time characterised by uncertainty creates an unexpected joy - a sense of home. The grief I have felt over my grandmother’s death has been a similar experience. She was a big part of my home life in Manchester, and her loss feels as if another chunk of that previous iteration of ‘home’ has disintegrated.

“Feeling such unity with someone in a time characterised by uncertainty creates a sense of home.”

All of this comes with a generous dose of perspective; this is an account of my experience alone, and I cannot imagine the serious upset of those forced to leave their homes due to political unrest or other dangerous situations and the toll this takes on every aspect of their lives and mental health (especially during a pandemic). Perspective and due reverence are certainly required when examining my own situation.

What is the takeaway from all of this? I’m not sure, but I think that is precisely the point. Uncertainty, though it would seem incongruous, comes with the territory. Ultimately, home is a limited term for a much broader physical and emotional concept, and is not always static, nor limited to provenance or location. Indeed, more could be said about the equally amorphous concept of a home within oneself, to find one example. But what I have come to appreciate is that some of the ‘homes’ we cultivate in our lives, physical or interpersonal, are steadfast, and others, whether naturally or unnaturally, get disassembled over time. Coping with this unique kind of grief and the sizeable change to one’s emotional literacy it incurs is a new experience. Not an especially easy one, but one that has made me particularly grateful for the new home taking shape here in Cambridge.


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