A psychiatrist friend, now passed on, used to use a phrase that his students would quote: “Be it ever so miserable, there’s no place like home.”
I think that was Bob’s way of warning his interns that the children of dysfunctional families would want to return to the only home they knew.
The law of karma warns us that even in our next life we will be drawn to the familiar. If we are used to anger in this life then, as we are shopping for our next stop in time, we’ll be drawn to parents who are yelling at each another. Perhaps now, while we can, we should examine this tendency.
I expect that Bob was thinking about how, right then and there, reality was miserable for a lot of children—never mind in some hypothetical future. And even as adults, most of us know more than enough about feelings of helplessness. Perhaps diminished by the work we do and feeling a lack of honest engagement with other human beings, we may not see a path to self-respect or know how to avoid future pain for ourselves and for others.
My psychiatrist friend’s phrase speaks directly to the attraction felt by neglected children toward whatever comes closest to home for them. It also sheds a light on how adults get stuck in a familiar status quo: “Be it ever so miserable”. Health care in America is a sad example: its failure to deliver preventative health care to all not only destroys many lives but hits the pocket book of everyone. What is familiar hypnotizes us. It’s as if the limited knowledge to which we cling is afraid to admit new members into the country club of our minds, lest we recognize a larger reality and see that our ideas about the world are flawed. The lure of the familiar seems to stem from a fear of the unknown. But it is only in the unknown that we can discover what we need in order to realize our potential and embark on the journey for which we have been granted life and breath.
The saying, “Home is where the heart is,” celebrates the places in which we feel most comfortable, inspired, and valued—a feeling that often harkens back to a time when others helped us get a start in life. Gratitude for our early teachers is certainly a good first step to making their guidance our own, but a more revolutionary interpretation of this phrase puts our heart itself at the center, not some home it has already found.
When we throw open the curtains and sunlight pours into our dreary room, our sense that we are at home in the world may come from a bird singing in the branches of a tree across the street. Drawn into a larger world, we discover that our home is really the great sweep of all possible futures—not just for us but for everyone—shimmering, never completely realized, and which reaches out to us like a friend on whom we can always count.