During winter, home is the sun around which an ever-tightening orbit of my life revolves. As the first snow falls, I retreat into the cocooning sanctuary of my four walls, saving myself from a frozen environment that no longer offers the food, water, and warmth necessary for life. Yet, the knowledge that eventually the rivers will thaw and rise, that green vitamin-filled shoots will emerge from the ground, and that the air will be sometimes mild, sometimes be steamy tempers my anxiety about winter. The circle of the year will always turn, and all I need to do is jump on board and wait ’til spring; then all will be well.
This year, however, my home in nature has had an alien face and I am not sure that I can be confident of the seasons’ constancy. The rivers that always dried up in summer raged from March through August with the surges breaking down retaining walls and flooding streets and homes. Orange and brown leaves began wafting from the tops of trees in July instead of October. By the end of September, there had been only a handful of truly hot days and winter was calling weeks early. What had happened to my four familiar New England seasons?
Not only was my environmental “home” changing, I also noticed upheaval in other types of “homes” in my life. Last month, I decided to leave the job I held for fourteen years and moved on to another one. My family has progressed from being two parents and a child to three independent adults as my son has matured. We’ve had three car breakdowns.
More monumentally, across the globe, thousands have died due to a tsunami or floods and other natural disasters. Millions are homeless. The grinding edge between oppression and freedom has become sharper and hotter in many places of the world. More families have sent loved ones off to war or welcomed them home knowing that their lives will never be the same. Clearly, the “homes” we once took for granted may be falling apart and no longer offer us shelter from nature or life.
When I feel as if my “home” is no longer safe and where I wish to be, my natural tendency is to move into a smaller sphere that I can control, where I can pretend that I know what will happen next. When the first hostile winter winds blow away fall’s brilliant and expected symphony of leaves, literally or metaphorically, I hole up with family and long-time, trusted friends, closing the doors and windows on fresh ideas and opportunities that may also come in on chilly gusts.
Still, stories about women and their homes suggest another response. Fictional, nonfictional, and even spiritual or mythological tales often begin with unhappy, insecure, and uncertain women in their old homes and end only when the women make their own homes to suit their new, transformed, wise, and impassioned selves. Sedna, an Inuit goddess, marries a bird god and leaves her father’s house. Unhappy in her new nest, she flees again to create her own solitary queendom under the ocean, providing food for all the people as long as they obey her wise laws. Selkies, in Celtic lore, are seals that can take human form; some believe that if a man steals a female Selkie’s skin, she can become his wife, made to live in his home, forced into his life on land. However, Selkies always find a way to return to the sea sanctuaries that suit their watery nature. Even Cinderella leaves her stepmother’s house to fulfill her destiny in a castle she shares with her Prince Charming.
So, how do those who are not goddesses, otherworldly beings, or queens-in-waiting make special homes for themselves where anxiety and change can be handled with creativity and determination? This task is especially difficult for those of us who long for home’s comfort, but who know that for many, home may be a place to be stowed away, expected to labor to make life pleasant for others instead of following their own paths. We must begin by creating from scratch a concept of “home.”
When we remake our environments with these criteria in mind, almost anywhere can become an invigorating and empowering “home,” whether it is my new office, or the values and personality that I plan to infuse into my new workplace with my confidence and sense of mission. Then there is our actual house where we all treat each other more as equals, or our new hybrid car that reflects a greater sense of ecological responsibility as our “home.”
It is important to remember that when we are mindful of how to create true women’s “homes,” we can use our talents to make bigger “homes” for other women. The first women’s “home” I experienced was decades ago at an early women’s music festival born of the turbulence of the feminist movement. Only women were allowed on the grounds and they performed all the tasks. For a weekend, I lived in a community where automatically it was assumed that women were smart, artistic, wise, and did valuable work. I felt completely accepted for who I was, free, and encouraged to express myself. For the first time in many years, I felt completely safe outdoors.
More recently, I worked with women who have created a small space where women can gather to and talk about everyday things, but more often about significant revolutions in their lives like divorce, the deaths of loved ones, births, and more. I have seen so many life-changing transformations take place during these talks that seem to have come about from the power of women knowing that they are being listened to and that their destinies and life missions are important. If we look through the eyes of our new definition of “home,” women’s homes are everywhere, from the millions of individual houses, where women cherish their friends and family to communities like Umoja in Kenya, where women have formed their own economically self-sustaining village as a safe haven for women fleeing domestic abuse and forced marriage.
Sometimes upheaval brings otherwise unheard and unconsidered ideas and opportunities. When women are forced from their “homes,” they make new ones that nurture and encourage themselves and others. From these new homes emerge stronger, more confident, more creative and compassionate women. At other times, rapid change is a signal of ecological disaster and threatens lives. Yet, what is needed more at just these moments than the transformed women who emerge when they find their true “home”? What home are you being called to create this winter?