It is between the limits posed by the inevitable and the infinite, that we seek to define our freedom, our existence. The physical dimension is constrained by the necessity of life to proceed in a certain order. Therefore, some form of enduring time and physicality has always been attendant to any substantial notion of “home”. Things are hazier today, after the advent of the mobile Internet and the boom in social media and artificial intelligence.
A lot has been made of the Internet’s alienating potential; yet for many it is the only place they really feel at home. Yet even there, where you belong, matters. Are you for or against? (Trump, liberal values, affordable housing, female empowerment, etc) Even more so than in life, “we” and “they” are not pronouns, they are live minefields, for all concerned.
For those who came to New York from somewhere else, that place soon fades to a cadence. A cadence invoking a world that both exists and does not exist. New York takes over all concept of home, infiltrating it with the norms and vicissitudes of arrival—a concept fraught with meaning, money, rank, and transcience, quintessential to New York.
Yet there can be no nostalgia. Old home soon feels all too familiar and yet faraway, almost mythical. Time will soon take its toll on that memory too, easing its intensity, to allow for a natural integration into the ocean where origins transmogrify into ethnic flavors so we can move move on, and then, prepped by this gradual ebbing and decimation, and hardened by all the overcoming…accept and in time settle into a state where home is as transient or permanent as the origin of the next pay-check. Maybe that is why exiles or refugees love their new homes more exuberantly and passionately than most; it is maybe the greatest thing one can hope for: to have lost and been lost only through the greatest inevitability: to have suffered no small deaths.
A former friend, a deracinated American, originally from Boston, now an expat in Paris, felt envious of Bostonians during the last, very snowy winter mix. “Ah… what I wouldn’t give to be back home now; reduced to fighting each other with shovels for parking spots amid the snowdrifts”.This, from an Ivy League man who put the F in fastidious.
Yet he was also an aging man, without children and with no parents anymore. So maybe, when people are feeling unmoored, they envisage home as a return to a place in time when they felt closest to their concept of themselves as limitless.
Or maybe home is what we chose to relinquish. Thereby, the guilt. And home is what remains when everything else is gone; so we dare to abandon it, believing it will be there if ever we return. It’s a delusion so beautiful we never put it to the test. A fantastical place where the past still lives on, foreign and familiar as the present.
An elderly academic—an Eastern European of exotic plumage who has lived here some forty years, still speaks of his house “back home”. Yet once he confesses: I still feel like a stranger in some ways, but the university recently gave me the opportunity to purchase twin burial plots for my wife and myself at a prime location, and at a great discount, so this will always be home, I guess.”
Then you have the global nomads. A lot has been made about this type of meta-modern man. These enlightened individuals seem to belong to another, probably more evolved species than we do. They usually start moving after school (whereas those who moved about in their early years, e.g. children of diplomats, usually follow a less peripatetic existence.) Recently an anthropological-biological research paper explained how some of us have less Neatherdhal DNA within us, than others. Neatherdhal DNA is sedentary and placid, the “other” DNA is headier, more dissatisfied, a wanderer. So maybe the notion of home is, also, a a matter of nature and nurture.
Home is also defined by whether we have found success and approval in our new environs. Success and its trappings, human, intangible, and material, are a kind of love, even when expressed negatively. They bind. Almost as much as real estate. And in New York, real estate is God.
At the High Line, people speed-walk, speed-talk about real estate, apps, markets and mothers. Yet all, regardless of age, gender, origin, stop in front of the graffitti on one of the edifices adjacent to the Line Park. It is a huge spray-painting of Einstein, bursting with color. “The answer is love” says the caption. It unites us all, in hope. Then the moment passes.
Normality reasserts itself. People go on being eradicated; through guns, and through indifference—a very NYC brand of competitiveness, carefully curated and convenient humanity, and a penchant for facileness.
This indifference. In some cases, civilized sociopathy; in others, a reaction to something unknown, therefore outside the “comfort zone” of preconceptions. Too much clarity hurts. Better to think of life It is all indeed like a dream, maybe even an actual dream, a prolonged midsummer nights and days dream. And that our efforts to go on, swept in the wind and taken out to sea where it may in time become part of the sky blue that paints horizons out of our illusions and lives when there is no longer any difference at all between the two.
Home has good days, and bad ones. Usually they coincide with the weather. On balmy days sharp tones and conversations of ‘arrival’, “aggregation’, ‘content’ and college, ‘monetization’ and real estate, soften.
On bad days, you try not to be devoured by the knowledge that here, in this city you have come to know as your only home, you are always one step away from home-lessness. The increasing numbers of homeless people distress you, even as you try to avoid their gaze. The street will eventually swallow them, you know. They will disappear from our view, or altogether. On the sidewalk, on the steps of churches, in the small street parks they lie on the ground. Many have created an illusion of privacy, using big cardboard containers. “Handle with care” says the writing on them. If you stop to think about it, your heart may break. Everything changes, massively each day. Even a few hours distance now suffice to obliterate the previous ones.
On the Manhattan side of the rocks that form the edge of the peninsula leading into the Hudson, a single figure does battle with the wind and the waves, trying to stand tall, holding a kite. We are all like this kite, maybe: happy despite it all, fighting, and then flying into the air, a precarious crash to the ground always a breath away. We stay in the air, sometimes hovering, sometimes flying, every so often crashing to the water; and as the sun sets, we too end, the water, wind and colors of dusk coming sweetly like an epilogue and a precursor to the new old we are momentarily part of but is everything to us for as long as it lasts. And the current never stops, neither does the wind; and for a few moments nothing else seems to matter but the power of the sea and the pull it exerts on every single person on the promenade, even if we have nothing in common, all coming from somewhere else and all headed somewhere else, afterwards. For a moment there, we are all home.