The last day of school, another milestone in our lives, prompts me to reflect.
My son has barely ridden the school bus this year, but as I watch it disappear around the corner this morning with him on it, I begin to consider the neighbourhood. I take in all the familiar idiosyncrasies of this place I call home. I think about the four years he’s been leaving our house to go to school, and about how, as he has gotten older, his space on these blocks has widened. He no longer belongs just to his room, or just to the house, or the driveway. He has his own relationship with these streets. With the park. The corner store. All the little landmarks and minor memories he has made for himself between here and school, between school and his afterschool program, his piano lessons. Between here and there.
As I bike to work, I think of my own memories and experiences here. The space beside the Germany Embassy where the bunny rabbits play. The tall stately trees that were planted over a hundred years ago and the few houses that remain from that time. The grandfatherly man I pass each morning as he takes his walk along the canal. The canal.
My initial thought as I took all this in was that I finally feel at home, finally have a neighbourhood of my own after what feels a long time. Perhaps for the first time since I left my childhood home and moved to Ireland.
But what makes a neighbourhood home? In Ireland, I certainly grew to know the people, became intimately acquainted with the neighbourhoods, the familiar surroundings. And when I returned to Canada and lived up in a small, rural riverside town for a few years, I had a neighbourhood there, too. I knew the neighbours, the safe places to swim in the river, the fields and forests behind the house.
The difference between Ireland and that riverside town and the place I live now, though, is that I finally feel at home. I finally feel comfortable with myself and my surroundings. I am no longer the outsider – in my imagination or in reality. In Ireland, I was never going to be Irish and I was never going to belong to that rural town either.
But I finally feel at home where I live. I am not an outsider. I am one of the neighbours. I’m somewhere in the tapestry, a part of the weft that weaves through the warp of these small streets. It is my home now and I’m not looking around for somewhere else, somewhere I would feel more comfortable.
I’ve always understood the saying “Home is where the heart is” to mean that home is wherever your family is, but maybe my interpretation is flawed.
Home is where I don’t have to think about who I am. Home is where I can just be.
Home is where I can pop out to chat to someone in their garden, or to join a group of neighbours gathering on the sidewalk.
Home is where I can run out into the street in my bare feet and pyjamas to watch the marching band from the nearby drill hall as they practice for parades – where I will meet other neighbours doing the same.
Home is where I can have an impromptu snowball fight with my son, the boys next door and the kids across the street.
Home is where I can just sit out the front or out the back, look up into the sky and enjoy the sounds surrounding me.
Home is where I wait for my son as he walks back from school, from the park, from wherever he’s been.
Home is where I belong and it is broader than the bricks and mortar of the house that is my small dot on the tapestry.