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What does it mean to “feel at home”?

Feeling at home is a common expression. We all have an intuition of what it means. But reflecting on this topic I asked myself: how do you say the fact of not feeling at home. I will try to suggest two answers, the first that come to mind. I think it’s better this way: to start talking about feeling at home starting from its opposite, from its lack. Moreover, in life we ​​often understand the importance of things just when we miss them …

The first is to feel lost. What does the word disorientation mean? It means not having a country and therefore not having a landscape. The bewildered is the one who feels disoriented, without points of reference and orientation, in a context that is not congenial. So here is what it means to feel at home: having a floor and a horizon, being in a context in which you orient yourself, in which you can move. A bewildered person does not know where he is and does not know where to go: he knows how to go but he does not know where. The house is the beginning that makes our navigation in space possible: perhaps it is no coincidence that the home page of a website is called a homepage: the home page, that is, the page from which we start, from which we start and from which you enter. Those who feel at home can recognize their place in the world, in life because they have domesticated the space in which they live. It made it a “home”. This does not mean that there are no unknown places, cellars and attics. Far from it! What would a house be without “dark” corners, without forest spaces, without closets? Everything would be in the sunlight. It would be the tragic triumph of Enlightenment and calculating reason in our lives! And this is typical of unlived houses, of lives that cannot find a home. However, in the house the dark area becomes part of a cosmos, of an inhabited earth, of domesticated objects and spaces, made their own.

The second is to feel uncomfortable. What is discomfort? It is that feeling that takes us when we feel s-comfortable, embarrassed, when we strongly perceive that our being there where we are is too much. We are uncomfortable when we do not harmonize with the context (of human relationships or environments) in which we are and therefore we are unable to place ourselves (let alone lose ourselves …) within it. The discomfort is the result of feeling too much one’s own presence on the shoulders. How do you feel comfortable? When you can freely intervene to change something. An example: adjusting the pillow in bed or on a sofa. Another: untie the knot of the tie. Another: take off your shoes and put on your slippers. All signs that make evident ease, the melting of something of us in a human (friends, family, …) or environmental context (returning to one’s home).

Life is not so suitable. And the house you are going to live in may not be entirely suitable. It must be domesticated. The house must adapt to you while you live it, and you must adapt to it.

As also the word habit has the same root. It is interesting to note that the collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters is the untranslatable expression The Habit of Being, that is literally the habit of being. Here the term does not mean mechanical and boring habit of being in this world, but essential quality, inner disposition to be, to live. This is the real and fundamental feeling of being at home. Then the very existence becomes a home, beyond walls, chimneys and hanging pictures. On the contrary: one’s life becomes a welcoming and comfortable home, as the Icelandic poet Sigurdur Palsson wrote in My Home:

Almost nothing is missing
in my house.
Almost nothing
The chimney is missing
You get used to it
The walls are missing
and the paintings on the walls

Not missing much
in my house
The chimney is missing
Who does not smoke for now
The walls are missing
and the windows
and the door

But my house is cozy
You are welcome
Take a seat
Do not be afraid
Let’s eat something
We break the bread, a drop of wine
Let’s light the fireplace

Let’s watch
no, we admire the paintings
on the walls

You are welcome
enter through the door
or from the windows
if not from the walls.

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