As a writer, I abhor a cliché, and I am no fan of idioms and proverbs. I prefer my words fresh and perhaps a little startling. I like words that wake us up and rattle our usual ways of thinking and seeing.
We say if these walls could talk, but what if the creaky floorboards have more important things to declare?
We say a man’s home is his castle, but are there alligators or swans in the moat?
The design magazines and remodeling shows describe a house as an escape or a retreat or a refuge, but I worry that such a house can never be hospitable. How can we welcome the stranger if we are preoccupied with raising our metaphorical drawbridge? How can we love our neighbor if a home is a kingdom of privacy?
And it isn’t only the dinner party that tests such a limited view. Even parenting is a kind of hospitality. Whether we are raising foster children, or adopted children, or the children born to us, we are opening our doors to needy people with whom we may have little in common.
The complications and discomforts we often wish to escape may be the very things that make a house a home.
Since my nieces and nephews lost their father in January, I have continually assured them that my home is also their home. I believed it, and I meant it, but I don’t think it felt real to me until I stood my oldest nephew up against the yardstick nailed to our kitchen doorframe. I marked a line with black marker at the top of his head, then added his name and the date. Later, I did the same for his younger sisters and baby brother, just as I do each year for my own four kids.
Because home is the place that shelters us as we grow.
Sometimes terrible things happen, and we long for escape. We cry out for refuge. We say, “Where is my safe place?” Since January, I have wanted only to gather my family and pull up the drawbridge. Now I see that this, too, can be a kind of hospitality. We may not be able to fortify ourselves against sorrow or sickness, but we can cultivate places where it is okay to be sick or sorrowful with others whom we love.
If our harried and hurried world has little patience for head colds it has even less for mourning. But with the drawbridge up, we have time and space for suffering and rest, grief and joy.
Perhaps my home is my castle.
It is only that the walls are so much wider than I thought.