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Lisa Marie's picture

Home and Belonging

I am from stacks of books

From hiking boots and oversized raincoats

I am from the high desert,

the scent of fresh air and dog and cat hair.

I am from the mountains and rivers,

the juniper trees

whose limbs I remember as if they were my own.


I am from PBS and NPR,

from Vietnamese music videos

from 52 cousins, laughter, and loud Irish Catholic family reunions.

I am from public libraries, hikes and bike rides.


I am from “Orygun not Ore-gone”

and the wisdom I have admired in my older brother

I am from Monopoly and “Jungle School”

from Oregon and Ireland

from my grandfather’s photos

and the diary entries stored under my bed.


            The question of what home is evokes thoughts of places, people, sights, smells, and certain feelings. What home is or where I feel that I belong is not something I can capture with one concrete sentence. Sometimes “home” can be a physical space, other times it can be my friends or family, or a sentiment of “being home”.  I would describe this feeling as having a sense of peace; that all is right and well with your world. Often, I feel this strongest when I am surrounded by those I love and care about. Home may also be a person, place, activity, or feeling that shapes who you are now as well as who you are becoming. Home is feeling comfortable and at ease in a place, and for me, it is also knowing a place incredibly well. Home is a shared feeling or sentiment between people. One of my favorite quotes by Norman Vincent Peale is “the more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” Often, I feel like I belong in the right place at the right time when I am involved and immersed in something much bigger than myself.

            For the first eighteen years of my life, I considered Bend, Oregon--and my house in this town—to be my home. After coming to Bryn Mawr, studying abroad, and living in another city for a year, though, I have expanded my notion of “home” to refer to a number of physical places. My charming hometown Bend sits on the Eastern edge of the Cascade Mountain Range along the Deschutes River. Bend is often called the “high desert” because of the arid land, Juniper trees, sagebrush, and bitterbrush. This city is home to many outdoor activities—hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, biking, and skiing. I have fond memories of going on long hikes, bike rides, camping trips, and canoe rides with my family. With a population of 100,000, it is not uncommon to run into an acquaintance or friend somewhere around town. Most people wear a friendly smile and radiate warmth and kindness. Being home means being surrounded by mountains, and being exposed to the fresh, crisp scent of pine and juniper trees. With my dad often working until late evenings and my family members’ various dietary restrictions, meals and food didn’t quite bring us together in the same way that being in the outdoors did.

                My family’s green house is filled with books, constant movement and activity, laughter, the sound of NPR playing over the airwaves, and cats, dogs, a bunny, and a guinea pig running all around. Despite the noise though, being immersed in a good story always transports me to a different world. We would often have friends or family members come for dinner or to stay for the weekend so there was rarely a quiet moment in our home. My dad was one of seven children so I grew up close to my 52 cousins who lived near and far. Family reunions were loud and full of laughter, games, good food, beer, and music.   

            Along with my house and hometown, there are a few other places that evoke the feeling of being “at home”. In 2000, my family embarked on a journey to Danang, Vietnam to adopt my sixteen-month-old sister whom we then only knew through a picture and a brief description of her life history. This trip was an eye-opening experience for me; I was exposed to an entirely new culture with customs and lifestyles different from my own. Even from my nine year old perspective, I noticed these cultural differences: seeing Buddhist Monks practicing in elaborate temples, the chaotic traffic, the delicious, spicy, and colorful food, and the markets. Being exposed to this made me more aware of the world around me and was an early lesson in learning to appreciate difference. After returning home with my sister, my parents made an active effort to preserve Julie’s heritage. Vietnamese paintings and photos of the trip hang on our walls reminding us of the amazing and special time we had and how much we learned and grew from the experience.

            Another important physical space that I would call home is Holden Village, an old mining town transformed into a Lutheran Retreat Center. This place is set in the picturesque Cascade Mountains in Washington State and is only accessible by boat and bus. One must drive to Chelan, Washington, ride a boat to the remote town of Lucerne and from there, board a bus for the final ten miles to Holden Village. My family visits this idealistic setting every other summer where there are no computers and no cell phone service. I loved going to Holden Village as a child--playing with the other kids there, hiking, playing with my brother, raiding the Costume closet--are some of my happiest memories. Going to Holden Village as a young adult, though, felt more meaningful; I developed deeper relationships with those I felt close to and those I just met, had fun, took the opportunity to pause and reflect on my life, and most importantly, became more present and accepting of everything going on around me.

            Another place where I have felt very much “at home” is Bryn Mawr. Anyone who has been on Bryn Mawr College’s campus will likely attest to the fact that it is a distinct community with its own unique set of norms, expectations, values, behaviors and customs. During my freshman year, I began the process of entering an entirely new social world, adjusting to these new norms and expectations. Coming from central Oregon, not only was I getting used to Bryn Mawr’s norms but I was also experiencing regional differences between the West and East Coasts—differences in attitudes, ways of dress, beliefs, and interactions. Throughout my time at Bryn Mawr, I have internalized the colleges’ norms, and some of the regional East Coast ones as well. With the help of my peers, Professors, and friends, I learned about living in a community with individuals from different backgrounds. My Professors conveyed to me the academic expectancies, revealing what an educated and empowered individual looked like. By the end of my freshman year, I had become a more well-spoken and articulate individual who was engaged and involved in the Bryn Mawr and wider community. Being a student at Bryn Mawr has empowered me in innumerable ways and has pushed me to go outside of my comfort zone. Being at home at Bryn Mawr means being surrounded by inspiring, passionate people—my friends, peers, professors, and staff--who are all doing something powerful with their lives. Being home at Bryn Mawr means I am happy with who I have become, and who I am still becoming.

            It is very difficult to come up with a conclusive, coherent definition of what it means to be at home or feel like you belong somewhere. I feel that this quote by Dennis Lehane captures some of my thoughts about this. “[Home] is a state of mind. A place of communion and unconditional love. It is where, when you cross its threshold, you finally feel at peace.” This sentiment encompasses what I feel about what it means to be “at home” or to belong. I do feel that throughout my life I have developed ties to a few places that I like to call “home” and have made connections with people who make me feel right at home. More importantly though, I belong somewhere when I know without a doubt I am in the right place at the right moment contributing to something greater than myself. 

Home essay .doc35 KB


Anne Dalke's picture

“Still Becoming”

I mentioned in class how much I enjoyed your poetic opening—all those gaps, all that open white space, the void betwixt-and-between the descriptions of where “I am from” point to the difficulty of capturing “home.” A nice, and very evocative, way to start your essay!

You go on to describe, in prose, your increasingly expanded sense of home: it includes Bend, Oregon, but also the remote Lutheran Retreat Center, your trip to Vietnam to adopt your sister, and eventually Bryn Mawr. It’s in that expansion (and, not incidentally, in the “gaps” it opens up) that I think your meditations get really interesting….

On the one hand, you are very certain about what home is: You can identify it by the  “sense of peace” you have there, “surrounded by those you love”; it’s “feeling comfortable and at ease in a place you know incredibly well”; it’s “a place of communion and unconditional love.”

OTOH, you characterize the home that is Bryn Mawr by “new norms and expectations,” by “living in a community with individuals from different backgrounds,” by being pushed “to go outside of my comfort zone.”

Comfort or being pushed out of it?
How can home encompass both?
(Feeling comfortable enough to take risks, perhaps…?)

There are other “cracks” in your claim that home is a place of ease, comfort, and peace. It involves, you say, “losing yourself in something bigger,” being “transported to a different world,” “learning to appreciate difference.” I’m wondering, in particular, how you might explain the relation between the remote location of the Lutheran Retreat Center, its removal from computers and cell phones, and your ability to become more present and accepting of everything?

How does being removed = being present?

Timothy Morton (whose work we’ll discuss on Monday) says that “a new ecological aesthetics …puts hesitation, uncertainty, irony and thoughtfulness back into ecological thinking,” that “dark ecology is about uncertainty,” attending to “the strange stranger that lives within (and without) each and every being’ (pp. 16-17).

Morton’s text strikes a very different keynote from your  conviction that “I belong somewhere when I know without a doubt I am in the right place at the right moment.” What happens when his uncertainty encounters your certainty? What new thoughts emerge when those two tonalities bump up against one another?

Read, please, the essays written by Jenna and aphorisnt. Make a private post, Sunday evening, about where you see exile in their stories of home (as well as in your own), and bring copies of all three with you, for discussion in Monday’s class.  Thanks!