Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Back at Home

Returning from my recent trip to Germany I was thinking about the meaning of home. In my time on this earth I have seen quite a lot of this beautiful planet. Ever since I was small, I have been traveling, moving, uprooting and saying goodbye. My first move was with my parents when I was two years old and since then I have moved more times than I can count.

My parents moved between South Africa and Germany several times while I was at school and once I had left school and ventured out on my own, I continued to move. I moved from apartment to apartment within Johannesburg and then between Cape Town and Johannesburg several times and in the year 2000, I made the big move to London. There I moved five times in the five years and always had a feeling that I would leave again. In 2005 I made the big move to San Francisco where I have stayed. It's the first time in my life that I have lived in the same city and same apartment for 7 years!

I've never had a real sense of home in the traditional sense of a childhood home. There is no family house to go back to and today my parents continue to move between Germany and South Africa – most recently my father made a joke that they just take long vacations with their furniture!

This sense of home is an interesting concept. There is a word in German "Heimat" ... this describes the sense belonging to a place where one is from (home). Not having ever had this kind of physical place that I can call home has often resulted in my feeling as if I don't belong anywhere. There are no roots to go back to, no history to trace. In Germany I feel I am not German enough, in South Africa I have always felt like an immigrant, in London I was too South African and in America ... well... here, I have no roots to speak of at all.

Sometimes this can make me feel disconnected and I accept that I will always remain an outsider no matter where I choose to live but I also accept that I have a choice in how I feel about it. One thing is certain, I feel fortunate to have chosen San Francisco as my home. This is a very diverse city and there are many people that are not from here, people that are here actually want to be here and that makes it easier to connect and feel a sense of community.

I have learned that home is where you make it and what you put into the space around you. I have felt at home in many places. I feel at home in nature. I feel at home where I feel loved. I feel at home where I feel peace. Home is within me.


Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one's suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”