One of the frustrations I have found around the issue of home and Third Culture Kids, is the regular dismissal of home as a significant player in our health and happiness. It’s all to too easy to decide that “belonging everywhere and nowhere” should be interpreted as a kind of clarion call for TCKs to dismiss the particularity of belonging, the importance of home.
Jo Swinney counters this interpretation beautifully in her book “Home: the quest to belong”. She is a Third Culture Kid herself and reflects upon her own experiences of multiple homes in a way that invites our own explorations of our home stories.
I love two things especially from Jo’s work. She refrains from the need to idealise how Third Culture Kids ‘should’ relate to places and homes, and instead interrogates her own experience in a way that also makes complete sense in a more universal application. In this passage on homesickness, she manages to both take the pain of this experience seriously, and yet doesn’t hold back from the opportunity to embrace the challenge it poses:
“So what can we learn from the pain of homesickness? What might it be telling us? I think it tells us that we have a need that isn’t being met; that we haven’t sufficiently embraced the people we are with and the places we find ourselves, in the hear and now; that we have allowed ourselves to dwell in the past or to hold out for a distant future. When we are homesick, we need to rethink our understanding of home.” P. 2
I also love how Jo introduces a new word to my vocabulary: acedia. She describes a feeling I have heard described by many Third Culture Kids; a sense of frustration with the current place, the parochial smallness of it, the longing for somewhere else where the people are more stimulating, the place more beautiful, the life more meaningful.
“Acedia is an ancient word, used in a monastic setting from around AD 250, and subsequently moving in and out of common usage. Its simple Greek meaning is ‘an absence or lack of care’ but it is laden with significance – encapsulating apathy, boredom, escapism, restlessness and paralysing despair. Writing in the fourth century AD, the monk Evagrius Ponticus observes, ‘The demon of acedia – also called the noonday demon – is the one that causes the most serious trouble of all… he instils in the heart of the monk a hatred for the place, a hatred for his very life itself’.” P.10
Through her book, Jo explores her own intention to learn to commit to place, to home, wherever she happens to be in the present moment. She walks us through the various elements that help us to feel at home, exploring them from a socio-historical perspective as well as her faith perspective as a Christian. Ultimately, she encourages the reader to spread their many roots down deep and wide. Finding home is not a case of cutting off extraneous attachments and committing to one at the expense of others, but rather knowing how to commit deep wherever we are, to ourselves as well as the place in which we live.
“You can take a thread from a spider’s web and not destroy the structure. If we have a multi-faceted understanding of home, we won’t become homeless (in a fundamental sense) if one of those facets is taken away. If we lose our house, if our marriage falls apart, if we have no job, if we are transplanted to another culture, we can still find home in the many other senses of the word.” P. 9
In my work with clients, home and the significance of place regularly feature in sessions – we are so drawn to wrestling even with the very concept of home! I explore how we can build home for ourselves in this blog post, if you would like to read more on this topic. And as always, if you would like to discuss ways in which Life Story Therapies can support you directly, do get in touch here. It’d be an honour to hear your story.