Posts Tagged ‘home’

Safe at home

November 15, 2012

Alain de Botton has interesting thoughts on home. “Perfect” is probably out of reach, but we could definitely do a lot better. Too many of our homes do make us “cross and angry.” Our true home, after all, extends well beyond walls. “Look again at that dot…”*

We need a home in the psychological sense as much as we need one in the physical: to compensate for a vulnerability. We need a refuge to shore up our states of mind, because so much of the world is opposed to our allegiances. We need our rooms to align us to desirable versions of ourselves and to keep alive the important, evanescent sides of us.


buildings are able to solve no more than a fraction of our dissatisfactions or prevent evil from unfolding under their watch.


Architecture, even at its most accomplished, will only ever constitute a small, and imperfect (expensive, prone to destruction, and morally unreliable), protest against the state of things.

Right. The state of things is that our little mote of terra firma, our modest corner of real estate, is in a volatile and fragile market. We delude ourselves to think we can go on forever playing the territorial game, regions and states, one against the others. Our buildings may be aesthetically appealing or not, may provide shelter from the storm or not, but they cannot sustain our belligerent nationalistic pride. We must come to think of home as the entire human abode, spaceship earth, the ultimate earthship.

Neil Tyson came to Vanderbilt, night before last, and reminded us that “the universe has a shipload of stars.” That could be bad for one’s ego, or it could be mind-expanding. “We are stardust.”

Home as safe haven, as  sturdy vehicle into the future, as mirror of our sustainable souls… the essence of home has far more to do with our states of mind than with our building design and materials. It’s a small ship, in a big  sea of stars. We are not alone, and as Thoreau said: why should we feel lonely? “Is not our planet in the Milky Way?”


cosmic trust

April 8, 2010

The author of Passion for Wisdom has plenty to say about passion, wisdom, reason, and much else. He was a great advocate of gratitude, a gifted teacher, and (not least) a lover of fine natural spirits. His approach is reminiscent of Dewey’s “natural piety.” But the centerpiece of today’s reading in Spirituality for the Skeptic, for me, is the concept of “cosmic trust.”

Bob Solomon trusted a universe that, indifferently of course and without personal malice, swept him away at an age most of us think of as before anyone’s “time.” He collapsed in a Zurich airport in December 2007, a youthful sixty-something. That untimely end makes so much of what he writes in this book tug poignantly at the heartstrings.

Trust, with passion and love, forms the tripod of Solomon’s version of naturalized spirituality. It entails risk and a certain lack of control, it cultivates as much of Nietzsche’s “amor fati” as seems reasonable but, Solomon wisely acknowledges, we  cannot accept everything. Open-eyed affirmation is not the same as Panglossian stupidity, but it is a form of optimism. The world is not the best possible, but we must all  still do what we can to push it along in that direction. Pessimism doesn’t push hard enough. Metaphysical optimism doesn’t really push at all, trusting too much. The affirmation Solomon advises looks more like James’s meliorism, with no guarantees of smooth sailing and the ever-looming threat of shipwreck. And so we sail on, as Mr. Fitzgerald said, boats against the current scanning for the green light of home (and the promise of an “orgiastic future”).

Cosmic trust inevitably conjures Carl Sagan and his quest for the feeling of being “at home in the universe.” It’s an “ontological security” in one’s own existence and confidence in one’s place in the world.” We’re all entitled to that, though Solomon rightly rejects feelings of exclusive personal entitlement. This “at home-ness” is our common birthright, as children of the cosmos. We’re not strangers in a strange land here at all, there’s no place else we need to get to. Maybe we could borrow Jennifer Hecht‘s sign?

Or Crash Davis’s line: “It’s a long season, you gotta trust it.” Life, that is. We must live as though we knew it to be a long season. Tomorrow’s another day, right up until it isn’t. Stay within yourself. Give 110%. [Bull Durham: cliches…”I believe“…William Blake]

We should secretly admit otherwise, to ourselves, as we go about the daily busy-ness of our lives, and then file that admission away for future use. It’s really much too short to end at any age, but it can feel long and it will, when we slide safely and trustingly into home. Remember: home is not elsewhere, it’s where we begin and where we end. It closes the circuit. Touch ’em all.

(Here is where I should acknowledge Solomon’s ambivalence towards sports and sports metaphors. Who could blame him, a transplant deep in the heart of Texas, where rabid Longhorns– like rabid partisans everywhere– seem constantly on the verge of madness? I’m ambivalent about it too, and there’s no question the “us versus them” mentality it models is one of the scourges of our species. But darn it, it’s just fun to have a home team to root for. And rooted.)

Spirituality is about moving on, forgiving the world for the misfortunes it (inevitably) inflicts upon us. Thus spirituality is also called wisdom. Setting sail after hitting hard shoals is a forgiving form of spiritual wisdom, too.

Cosmic trust is also about cosmic responsibility, which we must accept if we’re ever going to survive and flourish. Mostly, for now, it seems many of us are still stuck in what K. Antony Appiah calls the pre-cosmopolitan “if you don’t want to be my brother, I’ll bash your skull in” phase of our evolution.


July 23, 2009

One good poem about home deserves another, albeit completely different in mood and tone. Home here, though, is not a distant inevitability but a present and mundane reality. It’s where a poet works and dreams.

Billy Collins is that rarest of poets, funny and widely read.

I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.

Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure--if it is a pleasure--
of fishing on the Susquehanna...

I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one--
a painting of a woman on the wall,

a bowl of tangerines on the table--
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.


July 22, 2009

EWarnerParkInisfreeAnother favorite spot in Edwin Warner Park.

Yeats‘s “Lake Isle of Inisfree” evokes feelings of home and rest and the release of care.

For this hiker/biker yesterday it evoked  the thought of moral holiday, and the release of guilt for enjoying a beautiful summer’s afternoon in the park. The unexpected rain that came later, and that is still falling this morning, had the same effect. Glad I came across it again. Rest peacefully, Dr. Hoffman.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Coming home

July 6, 2009

Best thing about a holiday, beyond the obvious (that it’s  restful , restorative, life-giving and fun) is the reminder it gives that our ways of living, where and how and why we plow through our days in precisely the ways we do,  are selected or inherited from an array of possibilities. It could all be otherwise.

We know that already, of course, sort of, but bringing the awareness of contingency and possibility to the fore periodically keeps a person flexible and open to the unforeseen and unforeseeable.

Taking a holiday in another place can also deepen your appreciation of other lives and the fact that there are many ways of being human. Of course it can also reinforce your prejudices, if you regard those other lives in a skewed and jaundiced perspective. And you have to make allowances for the tendency, when away, to see the sights through tinted lenses. But still, the small break in routine offers big lessons if we’re receptive. Might even turn us into cosmopolites.

The other great thing about a holiday: appreciating what you’ve got, and seeing it all afresh, when you get home.  Coming home’s the point of it all, in the game of life. Sister Wynona Carr said Jesus is standin’ at home plate, but I’m thinking here more of the old Anglo-St. Louis poet who said,

the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.


It was great to take in the dawn from a different perch for a few days. It’s great to be home. The Ashevillian Tom Wolfe (“you can’t go home again”) was mistaken about that.