Ram Dass, the famous American guru, famously claimed, “We’re all just walking each other home.” He died last December at the age of eighty-eight. So I’m wondering today: Is he home now? Is that when we’ll feel most at home, when we join him wherever his spirit is?
Home seems to be a subject I’ve been obsessed with, especially in recent years, since I emigrated to Mexico. Of the more than three hundred WOW posts I’ve published since 2014 when I began writing this weekly blog on all sorts of subjects relevant to older women, at least twenty of my short Views (point-of-view personal essays) have attempted to approach the big embracing topic of Home, each from a slightly different angle.
But I still long to know: Where is Home? And what is it? Is it a physical place or a state of mind? Is it something we take for granted until we don’t have it any longer – like clean air or drinkable water? Is it just a leak-proof roof over our heads? Or something immutable we carry around inside of us, deep in our hearts?
Maya Angelou wrote, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” I confess, I’ve been longing for this a lot lately.
When news of the COVID-19 pandemic struck San Miguel de Allende in force last March, most of the snowbirds and tourists flew home to their respective homelands – mainly the U.S. and Canada – on the first available plane.
For many expats with second homes in San Miguel, their “real” home is where their families live, where their deeper, older roots are. San Miguel is like a playground for them, their happy place; their hearths lie elsewhere. So they also packed and left suddenly last March.
“Home,” Robert Frost said, “is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” For me, and for many of my fellow retired single older women friends, that place is now San Miguel. We’ve found that we can live good, healthy, independent, purposeful, and affordable lives here in Mexico. We simply can’t afford to live in the United States at this stage of our lives, with the cost of living so high there and our Social Security checks and savings so meager. So we’re immensely grateful that Mexico has taken us in.
And during this pandemic lockdown, we’ve mostly been staying in. Except for weekly quick forays to the grocery store and brisk solo daily walks around our nearest parks — wearing masks and socially distancing, of course — we, along with the vast majority of others here in SMA have been abiding by the rules. To date, there have been a total of six deaths from COVID-19 in San Miguel – all men, between the ages of thirty and seventy-five. If, as V.S. Naipaul said, home is “a place to feel safe,” we feel safe here and at home.
Yes, we’ve tried to make homes for ourselves in our small, affordable apartments. My friend Helaine, for instance, a retired psychotherapist from Santa Fe, New Mexico, tells me she loves her little apartment in San Miguel far more than she ever loved her house in Santa Fe. “This is home for me,” she told me recently when we were discussing the subject.
I felt similarly about the funky little old “penthouse” apartment on the other side of town that I had to move from last month because the apartment complex will soon be sold and likely torn down. I especially loved my tiny, quiet, private patio filled with potted flowering plants, and the dramatic, Technicolor sunsets I enjoyed from my lofty western view:
My new studio apartment, on the other hand, as nice as it is, has yet to feel like home to me. It’s more like a beautiful, fully furnished, fully decorated, and fully equipped vacation rental, where I’m staying on a short Mexican holiday, all the while wondering when I’ll need to pack for home.
To remedy this, I’ve been gradually taking down artwork that’s not my taste and replacing it with wall quilts I made when I lived and taught patchwork quilting in Mali, West Africa. These simple, sentimental, demo quilts, made with African fabric, spell HOME to me.
This lingering, gnawing yearning for home has made me think and care about, as never before, the truly homeless – desperate people sleeping on the streets of New York and Los Angeles, for example, caged migrant children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border, refugees in dozens of overcrowded camps scattered around the world. As of last January, an estimated 1.6 billion people – or 20 percent of the world’s population – lack adequate housing. One point six billion people yearning for Home.
“This world is not my home,” the old, revivalist hymn goes, “I’m just a-passin’ through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue…” If only Ram Dass could confirm this for us now! Sojourner Truth was sure of it. “I’m not going to die,” she said. “I’m going home like a shooting star.”