More than a year ago, my husband and I glimpsed homelessness. We had traveled to a family reunion, and in our absence, a water filtering system under the kitchen sink burst and flooded the house with 35,684 gallons of water. The damage was enormous. Over the months that followed, we lived in eight different hotels, timeshares and condos with only a suitcase of clothes between us. It was an experience that taught us a great deal about construction - and home.
For most of us, home is synonymous with comfort. The familiarity of the simple things of life settles our souls and offers rest for our busy lives. It is both the place to which we escape and the place in which we welcome friends and family. It is an extension of who we are, for we create it in our likeness.
If we lose our home, we lose part of ourselves.
In our case, all that touched the floor was destroyed – all furniture, cabinetry, all piles of papers and books waiting to be read, boxes of photographs and tax returns. Yes, almost everything was destroyed.
Numb by what we saw that fateful night when we returned to our house, I pulled paintings and photos from our walls and stacked them in my car. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was bringing home with me.
We surround ourselves with stories – family stories, friend stories, dream stories. They live with us and become part of us. Even when we are alone in our home, it is these stories that keep us company. I didn’t know this until we lost our home.
Today I share a few of my rescued pieces and their stories, to explain my point.
This first painting is of the fire that raged through Laguna Beach in the mid 1990s and consumed hundreds of homes. The artist, a gentle man named Jeff Hurlbut who worked at the same college as I, gifted me this painting. We had shared tears over the loss of his son and found common ground in art. I’m ever so glad that one of his masterpieces hangs in my home reminding me of him and his family. Neither of us could have known that one day his painting would have special meaning because of another loss.
My daughter painted this second piece. I have several of her paintings hanging in our home, and each carries a special part of her and thus a part of me.
I love this one for its passion and its promise. Her years in ballet and her love of art find expression on canvas where life meets possibility. She sees that which some of us might miss, and the stories of times past come alive in the present.
When I look at this painting, I think of the artist and his courage – and I'm always reminded of the universal appeal of compassion.
If you returned to your home and realized you had only minutes to retrieve some of your precious belongings, what would you take with you? Your answer will tell you about home.
Maya Angelou said: “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
I discovered that stories bring me home. Do they you?