Home for the Holidays

Who knew it would be so much trouble to go home?

What should be simple, straightforward, and just, well, a basic human right, isn’t always. As I write this, I think about the millions of displaced people who not only have no foreseeable hope of going home, don’t even have another place they can call home, or even call comfortable. I have a habit that when I begin to be overwhelmed with some aspect of my life, I remind myself: “At least I am not in a refugee camp.” Although a camp is something so far removed from me, I am still grateful to have a place where I belong and I am safe.

But I also have my own home-going story and while it is not treacherous, dangerous, or borne out of an immediate and urgent need, it too has it’s own stress.

My husband, children and I are about to take a break from our life in Dublin city to go spend some time with family on the west coast of Canada. We will be gone eight months – three seasons. We’re exchanging Irish-speaking schools for Canadian ones (with yellow school buses! yearbooks! big lockers!), violin lessons for cello, and blue scout uniforms for green and tan. When we talk about it, what I hear most from people is that this is an adventure.

And it is. It is an adventure. It’s not unfamiliar to any of us, least of all me, but this time will have it’s own flavour, something new for each of us.

To jump, or not to jump? I feel a bit like this guy.  

As well as adventure, it is also a juggling act: taking care of the here and now, organising the leaving and the arriving. Sorting, storing, donating, binning, packing. Trying to remember where I put whatever it is I need right now.

And in the preparation for going away, I gave myself a cut-off line for entertaining. The last guest left, and I hit pack-up mode. But then… my kids brought friends home. We still had people in for tea, for family dinners: we just can’t help it. It’s part of home for us, sharing it, being in it with others.

Leaving home, having no home, sharing your home: these thoughts swirl around me as I pack and clean, making my home ready for someone else, making myself ready for another, temporary and very familiar, home. It is Advent, the season of waiting and preparation, with a homeless, vulnerable family at the core of its story.

I, as an Irish-looking person, did not receive the 100 thousand Irish welcomes when I first arrived here to live almost 25 years ago. As a visitor, I was made extremely welcome, and was charmed by the warmth and the chat of people all over the country. As someone coming to live, not so much. I was surprised at the dismissive response from potential friends, the “What’s wrong with Canada?” questions, the facial expressions that changed from ‘You’re welcome!’ to ‘Don’t get too close!’ It was hard to make friends and one of my few Irish friends was as shocked as I was by the reception I received.

Of course that changed for me. Now I am one of the Irish of the welcomes, I am knit into the fabric of this society and as well as experiencing some pretty life-changing events in my time here, I’ve witnessed many nation-changing events too. This is home to me: not my only home, but my home nonetheless.

There are many responses from the born-Irish to the new Irish and even if one is welcoming to strangers, there isn’t always a natural way to express it. It’s not easy to make friends outside your usual circle; it can be hard to move past cultural differences, even when you are living in the same one as someone else. Despite my current moratorium on hospitality, I was delighted to hear that ChangeX* is offering people an opportunity to host a dinner for a migrant in their area.

Although I have officially closed off on entertaining until further notice (at least in this house), I am challenged to open my home – my own house, my living, my own new nation – to those at the margins, the new, the bewildered, the people who I may not understand. I can’t wait to share in other home-going stories.

* “ChangeX is a platform of proven innovations from across the world [whose] mission is to build community wellbeing by unleashing the potential of changemakers everywhere.”



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