It’s a new week and the beginning of a new month.
As I sit here and write, I have a clear view out of a large window onto a frosty landscape. The sky is bright blue and the sun is spreading a golden light over the frozen earth. The tree branches in front of the window are soaking up the suns rays and some birds are fluttering back and forth, nibbling at the seeds I put out this morning. My robin friend has had some competition lately, with a blackbird and sparrow having discovered the seed, plus a stoat who made an appearance the other day! I’ve been wondering where these creatures reside. I haven’t detected any nests, but maybe I haven’t looked carefully enough. The stoat has evidently burrowed a little tunnel next to my studio wall. The birds suddenly seem to appear from secret places in the trees or long grasses. The other evening I went out to watch the full moon rise over the sea. I layered up with woolly clothing, trekked down to the beach, and waited. I ended up waiting longer than planned and was chilled through to the bone on my return to the house. Stepping into a small pool of North Sea water at low tide did not help. When I got inside, my boots were the first things to come off and I lit a fire to ward off the chill, changing into dry socks. It is moments like these when I appreciate the place called home.
While standing out in the bay on that wintry evening, I thought about a couple of radio interviews I heard a few days prior, with UK’s astronaut Tim Peake, and Canadian Space Commander, Chris Hadfield. Both of them expressed their awe and excitement at seeing the world from space, acknowledging the immense privilege it was to experience such a life altering journey. They developed a new and deeper appreciation for earth and all it’s complexity; and along with the practical and technical considerations, a reverence and wonder filled their voices as they shared. While in space they started to think of this earth, our home, and the people in their lives, with a new sense of love and gratitude - and throughout this dangerous adventure, they had to maintain the delicate and complex world of the International Space Station. Their task was to make a very special, temporary home for the limited time they were in space, a unique environment where they could safely live and work. What makes home home? Is it merely a roof over our heads? Certainly that is a thing to be thankful for, no doubt. But I think we can all agree that home is something more, and it extends beyond the idea of shelter. Here on earth we’ve been plunged into a rather sudden and unexpected isolation. If there’s anything this pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns have taught us, it is how to be ‘at home’ in our own skins and in our own company, or in the company of very few others. We’ve had to tap into inner resources we never knew we had, and re-establish boundaries and set new routines. The artist, Grayson Perry, hosted a programme on Channel 4 last spring, called ‘Grayson Perry’s Art Club’. In it he invited members to submit artwork based on a theme. One of them was on home. He said ‘We carry around with us this emotional map. When we’re part of the world out there, our map expands because we meet people and they reinforce who we are. In lockdown we are forced to close down, pull back from that world in some ways. Our home has become the boundary of our extended sense of self. Even more than ever, we need to take care of this environment because it’s affecting who we are.’ This silent path through the pandemic has shaped us in ways we cannot yet see or imagine. If anything, it subconciously or conciously invites us to consider how ‘at home’ we are in our own skins. The French novelist, Honoré de Balzac, wrote ‘Nothing is a greater impediment to being on good terms with others than being ill at ease with yourself.’ In light of this we can use this time to better know ourselves. Perhaps it is moments like these when we learn patience, with ourselves and our circumstances, and stop to consider home as the precious gift that it is. Home is about safety, creativity and security. What does it take to maintain that? What objects do we place around us that make home what it is? What is it that makes us feel secure and loved? As we consider how to make this time richer, we have reason to uphold our physical and mental health through routine, engaging with nature, resting, playing, laughing… wondering… Whether just up the road or hundreds of miles away, the distance between ourselves and our loved ones might as well be as far as the moon is from earth. But when all this is over, we will be able to step to into the world with greater ease towards others, taking that sense of home and place with us.