Cait + Tiff are pawning off their blog duties onto friends this week, and today we have a gorgeous piece written by Emily. Thank you Emily, we love you.
Thurlestone – my family home named for a house on the British coastline my grandparents visited in the early years of their marriage – was an oddity. A crumbling, pieced together, shambolic, loving, warm, bizarrely decorated house in a neighborhood that no longer had room for eccentricity. When they bought it the surrounded area was farmland and family homes; an easy commuting distance into London for young families. But by the time they retired, Surrey had been taken over by bankers and football players and the price of property was at a premium. So last summer, after 50 years of happy, chaotic existence, as my grandparent’s health needed greater care than they could receive at home, the property was sold and the house demolished.
Places you’ve loved, much like people you’ve loved, run the risk of being reduced to anecdotes. We tell stories that we hope illustrate some larger truth. In the lead up to the demolition, and in the immediate aftermath, well intentioned people kept telling me that it’s not the place that’s meaningful, it’s the people inside and the memories you make with them. But I always balked at that. Physical space matters, and as much as I love people, I love my home too.
Thurlestone, I realized, in recounting stories about it, in mourning its demise, was a space – both an emotional and literal space – where you could learn truisms, gently.
We can be told to love unconditionally, but when you throw a tantrum or fight with your siblings and storm off, and are given the space to recover, and then come back to the bigger group and are welcomed as if nothing has happened – you feel what that love means. When you color on the walls, and are told off, and then years later a favorite family joke is that the coloring showed your early genius, you both feel and know that people are more important than objects. When you decide you’re running away at the world weary age of 6, and you feel the gravel under your feet and look both ways at the end of the driveway, and then change your mind and come back inside sheepishly, and your grandmother suggests we all go enjoy the beautiful day, you feel, not in one action, but in multiple little moments, what it means to really forgive someone.
The problem with so many life lessons is they come when you don’t expect them, they come with a big flash, in a monumental moment, and you’re not given time, often, to decide how best to respond. For me, the great virtue of home is that in little moments, over and over again, you are given both the literal space to run away and think, and the personal space to repeat mistakes, to observe, to mimic, to get things wrong. You can, over time, learn softly. Wordsworth called ‘the sum of a good man’s life; the little, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.” Home gives you the space to have those moments.
I walk through the world with Thurlestone with me; Thurlestone has contributed to making me feel at home in unfamiliar places. And I think that’s also what home is. Home is something you carry with you – not so much in memories, because you can have memories anywhere – but in associations.
Sitting in a coffee shop hundreds of miles away from where Thurlestone once stood, I saw a lady with a baby, her left side covered in the crusty paste of baby food, with lipstick on only her bottom lip. She had clearly started to apply it and gotten distracted. And with this woman I’d never met, I felt an immediate kinship. Not because I’m a mum (I’m not); not because we had the same background (we didn’t) but because her goofy lipstick reminded me of home. She’d tried something aesthetic, and gotten distracted by an act of love. She was covered in food, but her arms were open to this little person. She looked wonderful in the silly, happy, going in a million different directions harried way that is only possible as an expression of love.
We are all crumbling, we are all frail, we are capable of amazing kindness, warmth and strength, particularly when we are protecting the people we love; we all have flashes of genius. We carry home with us. My home gave me a way of feeling at home in places unfamiliar, because by learning those truisms gently I was granted a way of seeing something universal – if fleetingly, if inconsistently – in the everyday kindnesses of an otherwise lonely world.