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No PLACE Like It Too

To reverse the truism There's no place like home to something like Home is no-place is useful in privileging people and connections, which as a species we require. A tragedy can destroy a house, but what matters most is the survival of those inside. But once you've sorted out that priority you still have to deal with the looming role of place itself in home-making, because to lose that really is tragic.


Fire, war, and natural disasters are calamitous not just because we have to live somewhere but because humans connect with place itself, nearly as much as each other––and no doubt for some, place matters more.  Just invoking the possibility of so many kinds of loss is anxiety-producing, which is probably why the media thrive on it.

Ever since humans shifted from hunting and gathering to sedentary lives our mindset changed about place. There's the territorial thing and the wars that are fought because of it. From city-states to nation-states we've become ultra-proprietary, nearly insane about land, ownership, and place-identity, leading to traumatic events on a grand scale, as recent events show. The craving for possessions of every kind, including territory––hoarding it––links ownership not just to security but power and influence.


But there's the softer, less macho side of place as well. Ovid made a career as a wise-guy poet, taking aim at the rich and powerful––The Metamorphoses is one of the most exquisite, masterful, and effective take-downs of the famous ever, the reward for which was permanent exile to a frozen island in the Black Sea. His last book, which he wrote there, is an extended lament, a literary wailing over the loss of wife and family, but his beloved farm too.  His fruit trees, grape vines, fields, and villa. That is, place. 


We can be just as nostalgic over the separation from that as people. I lived in Paris for a time; I visited dozens of times with my husband; and even though it's not home the way Cleveland, New York, or Santa Fe might be, it still holds a power over me.  The same can be said of London––and England where I've returned often to visit a dear friend. There's the lure of those places. I often pine viscerally to go back, as in in my body, my bones.


In that way it stands to reason that a person like my mother, who as I've said resided at the same location for six decades, might never feel the urge to leave. It isn't just the familiarity thing, though no doubt that's part of it. The physical house was identified with family and loved ones, but also the place itself. So long as she could sit on her back patio and look out on her yard, her patch of green, visited by birds, deer, and other wildlife, all was well with the world, including, or perhaps especially, when she became unwell. 


I feel it taking hold of me the older I get.  It may be true that home is wherever loved ones are, but it's also true that I love my walled-in yard, and like Ovid my fruit trees. I identify with the view from the portal in front of my home, from where we take in sunsets just about every night.  Place can be calming to the point that I have to remind myself that nothing lasts forever, including people and places both. 


Perhaps the most powerful evocation of place of course is the Eve and Adam story. It's a fabulous tale, a vision of such comfort and security that the characters don't even have to wear clothes. They inhabit a walled-in garden, a place of abundance that they work to maintain. It's edenic, literally, which is to say too good to last. The tale is powerful because it's the story of all of us, of fullness and lack, ownership and dispossession, a road map that says, Enjoy it now, because one day. . . .


It works on a global scale as well.  It's one thing to have a home that's tragically taken by war, fire, or flood and another to be the agents of our own destruction. In a sense humans have been living in a garden for the last two hundred thousand years that we've been around. Who could ever have predicted that our obsession with land-ownership, our irresponsible use of energy, and our exploitive procurement of food––our obsession with meat, which we don't need to survive or thrive––would lead to the devastation of our own home, of place on a planetary level?

That is if we fail to value place, the fact that there is literally no place like the one we have. That we're beholden to it.


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