A Sense of Place

To speak of domesticity is to describe a set of felt emotions, not a single attribute.  Domesticity has to do with family, intimacy, and a devotion to the home, as well as with a sense of the house as embodying -- not only harboring -- these sentiments.

Witold Rybczynski, Home

As he so often does, my husband said it best.  We were wearily riding the escalator to the departure gate at the Las Vegas airport, not looking forward to the redeye flight (complete with 4 AM layover) that would bring us home.  Too tired for conversation, we just stared at each other. Then he spoke:

“I’m glad this is our last trip for awhile.”

I nodded.  This was the summer we never saw coming.  We sure should have: when I started tallying up days, it turned out that the two months from the last day of school to yesterday, when we changed clothes in the airport bathroom and went straight to a badly-needed Liturgy, were two-thirds travel.  And even that ratio doesn't reveal all: between eight trips, some piggybacked but all in different places, we were home for only a couple of days at a time: just long enough to unpack and repack before setting out again.  It got progressively harder to leave the garden, now in a sad state of neglect; the cat, who misses us enough to lose a few ounces each time we leave; and the house, that bottomless pit of projects and responsibilities and failures and hopes.

The afternoon before our last trip, not quite a week ago, I was trying to finish up one more project, rolling the last coat of paint on the upstairs hallway.  I don't know if I was more shocked when I suddenly burst into tears or when I couldn't stop for several hours, during which time I stubbornly refused to curtail the task and stood painting and sobbing while the cat yowled at me in alarm.  (We must have made a pretty pathetic tableau, and if any of her Prozac had been left in the bottle I think I would have given us both a dose.)

This physical reaction to mental stress can be partly explained by my personality -- a strong introvert, I love social time but it takes a lot out of me, and all of these trips involved near-constant time with family and friends -- but I also think there is something in each of us that craves the comfort of routine and a sense of place.  At home the Tupperware cupboard may be disorganized, but you know where it is, and given a minute or two and maybe one cathartic swear word, you can find the lid to the container that's just the right size to hold the soup that will be tomorrow's lunch.  In another place, you don't much care what happens to the leftovers because you didn't give up your afternoon to prepare dinner; and even if you are in favor of saving them, there's no fridge in the hotel room -- or you don't want to trouble your host by using hers.

That may be it, in fact -- the responsibilities about which we complain endlessly are dear to us because they symbolize our investment of time, energy and love.  It's freeing to throw a towel on the floor and say, "I don't care!" and know that someone else will pick it up and wash it; but after a few weeks it's simply an empty gesture, and all those "I don't care!"s add up to a person that really doesn't.  I don't want to be her.  I don't even like her.  Finally home, now, I am grateful for these tiny domestic tasks; with each one, I return a little more to the center of who I am.