I spent several Sundays ago walking through the lanes of Ultimo, flipping my gaze from house numbers to the blue dot on Google Maps, on my phone. I had been invited to lunch by a resident of Ultimo and a friend to MustardSeed Uniting and Harris St Centre. We’d met several times over coffee before, sometimes with another staff person, sometimes with a Uniting or UCA person, always chewing over community organising, church and climate change. This time I was invited over to lunch, at her place.
Standing in her house wasn’t geographically unique to the situation – we were perhaps only around the corner from any establishment we could have been to. But it was unique to be standing in her house; I felt the joy of it, leaning against the door jam of her kitchen, listening to her as she stirred the pot of pasta she was making us for lunch.
I’m more acquainted now than ever with the amazing thing that is The House. I mean it seriously when I say that in these times, I’m really getting my money’s worth from my rent. To actually spend time in the house that I pay for each month I am forced to just appreciate the rooms I have for entertainment, for hygiene, for rest, for storing food and fandangled utensils. I’m glad to live in a time where I can contact anyone from any room in my house, and where I can watch with delight, the stories they post online from their own home.
On the flip side, it makes me long for the simple ability to stand physically in someone else’s kitchen, to embrace them on the doorstep, to pass books and photos from hand to hand, to shed this new talent I have for policing myself.
All these new feelings about Home are a sign that my life has been full of luck and love. For one, I don’t spend a single minute worrying that my house might be taken away from me, like some might. I have also had a life of acceptance, rather than rejection by the world around me. That all amounts to the privilege of knowing that it is extra special gathering with people in their home.
A person’s home is full of their ethos and pathos: what they stand for, what they can’t stand, what photos and memorabilia make up their identity and personality. Where else is more appropriate to make plans to create a community association for sustainability – the topic of that Sunday? Where else to trade jokes and find meaning in what you’re doing? To have a photo catch your eye on their bookshelf and be taken down a warren of anecdotes about grandmothers, and “how did you first meet?”, and disgusting things you may have been forced to eat as a child in the vein of your familial heritage.
In many cultures, the joy I felt standing in my friend’s kitchen wouldn’t register as unique; only normal. You’d think with all the relatives houses’ I was dragged to as a child, to watch adults drone on over caffe, that I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid either. But I surprised myself as I left. Despite talking to people all day, all week, this was the most human and rested I felt.
It made me think of all the rituals we go through, interacting with each other, ticking off our to-dos. It makes me wonder how much I have missed in doing all of it so well, so polished, in places so apparently cleanly fit for the purpose but so far away from the home. When did my house exclusively become a crash pad, a place that looked in, instead of out, a place that was hidden for me when it could have been the centre from which I built my network of community?
Sometimes there really isn’t a place for it, like home.