Hunkering down: Home is where you hang your heart

It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings. ~ Wendell Berry (from Standing by Words)

[Author’s Note: I stopped writing on June 1 – at the end of a three-month reflection about home and heart, while quarantined at home during the 2020 Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. I’d intended to stop on a theme of hope as we begin emergence into society. That was May 30. Then June 1 happened. Days of social unrest and protests in the streets continue in every state following the death of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis. June 1 became an inflection point for the future of our country, our homeland, with the threat of federal military action. From this day forward, we have coronavirus, economic distress and social unrest to navigate…and many more weeks until the Nov. 3 election. Quarantine time is over; and it will be, I’m sure, a long, hot summer. Still, my reflections stand, for my own heart.]

May Day 2020 felt like Ground Hog Day, the movie. Another day, another month hunkered down at home due to the COVID-19 global coronaviris pandemic. February, March, April…weeks gone by. Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, St. Patrick’s, First Day of Spring, Easter, Earth Day… a long three-month blur of calendar days in this crazy leap year. But surely, by May things would be different.

Hunkering down at home, still wondering what day it was, I delighted in the discovery of writer Josh Bote’s April 17 USA Today article about this phenomenon. It’s called temporal disintegration. Oh, my. Losing track of time, being disoriented, time seeming to slow down, reflecting lots on what the future holds. It’s good to know that others were feeling the same. Some began reaching out – like my longtime friend, who jumped in early on to help sew face masks for the new normal.

Spreading hope… One day this spring (of course, I don’t remember which one) I was driving home from a brief errand. A sign in a neighborhood yard caught my eye: Spread Hope. How do you spread hope, hunkered down at home? I guess we do, each in our own way, find a way – like my sewing friend. I like the intention of the yard sign, though. After all, it prompted me to get going on this missive.

Even the weather’s been like Groundhog Day. Predictably unpredictable. Unusually cold days and snowflakes appearing in waves. Teased by a warm hint of spring in March, we rescued frozen April daffodils to enjoy inside. The golden blooms spread sunlight and hope to my winter-weary heart, a springtime promise dispelling a bit of corona coma I felt settling in.

I hunkered back down, sheltering in place, dwelling on thoughts of home. Perhaps this is the real work, the real journey.

In May we’d hit the three-month mark of actively dealing with this pandemic. I’d been writing blog notes for that long. Back in February, I didn’t have pandemic on my mind. Rather it was the one-year anniversary of my President’s week mini-stroke event. I was thinking of valentines, of grateful hearts, of the meaning of home…and how thankful I was to be home. Just to be. Me. At home. After all,

Home is where you hang your heart.

February was a heart-packed month, with President’s week completing that year-long parenthesis for me – a year of putting that experience back in the rear view mirror. I’ve definitely developed an affinity for Heart Month. I’m forever mindful of the ER, the ambulance crew who whisked me there, the doctors and staff who took care of me, the appointments with specialists, the myriad testing. All that was in the pre-corona world. Now, in a heightened way, my heart blesses every health care worker even more; and I continue to discover the importance of taking care of your heart.

A friend and mentor once gifted me with a small plaque, bearing a scissor-cut design of a heart and home, along with a quote: Home is where you hang your heart. I retrieved it from its place in the dining room, deciding to write about that. My thoughts in mid-February ventured into the deepest ramifications of home and heart.

Then came ripple upon ripple of pandemic news. We tuned into the updates, realizing by the end of the month that we must go visit my husband’s aunt and uncle in an assisted living facility on the west side of the state. We were intent upon getting there before visitation might be banned. We made it on the last day of the month.

The precariousness of life is touching us all. This leap year is one I’d personally like to leap over. In the early days of the pandemic, the world seemed to focus more on the economy. Keep calm and carry on, investing that is. So advised the CNN headline on my phone one day, while the coronavirus picked up steam. The article went on to note stocks plunging and investors being in a state of motion sickness. That made me think of the ginormous cruise ship off the coast of California and the news of more people testing positive for the virus. Every day the news became more dire, with more cases and more deaths.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~ Thornton Wilder

By Feb. 29, after connecting with our aunt and uncle…and having lunch with cousins (where everyone was wondering what’s to come, and one person was already carrying sanitizer in their pocket), I knew we were all thinking the same things – like, when would we see each other again? We were becoming conscious in a deeper way of life’s treasures.

On the drive home, skies were lovely, blue and clear. Yet all I could think about was the mist into which our oldest relatives would inevitably travel. Thoughts of “the good old days” sifted through. Time traveling in my heart: looking back at the early days of marriage, getting to know my husband’s extended family, and just beginning the adventure of forever friends.

Leap Day, the time between time. During a walkabout later that day, I heard mourning doves cooing in the distance. As I followed the snow trails created by my husband’s Christmas snow blower, I listened to their far off murmuring. That sound is one of my early childhood memories. Like a dream, the image of my five-year-old self (or thereabouts) revives in my mind and heart. I’m back in my grandmother’s back yard, in my hometown, having a tea party with my little cousins.

On Leap Day, with winter waning, daylight extends its reach and warmth, despite the snow flurries. Leap Day isn’t marked on my calendar, only February 29th. But it does seem a window in time… to think about the gift of another year, gift of family and friends, and the treasures of our hearts.

The world was a little lonelier that day – not only because of the apprehension about the future, and

our elderly relatives, but also because of the sudden passing of one of our longtime friends. While walking, the Antonin Dvorak Largo theme from Symphony No. 9 (New World Symphony) kept playing in my head.

Goin’ home, goin’ home, I’m a goin’ home”… The words of the favorite hymn resonate always. Curious about the origin, I discovered that those words were written by one of Dvorak’s students, William Arms Fisher. I love his explanation of the mood in the Largo theme. Often, we connect with the image of going home to our final resting place.

At American Music Preservation’s website, you’ll find this beautiful quote:

The Largo, with its haunting English horn solo, is the outpouring of Dvorak’s own home-longing, with something of the loneliness of far-off prairie horizons, the faint memory of the red-man’s bygone days, and a sense of the tragedy of the black-man as it sings in his “spirituals.” Deeper still it is a moving expression of that nostalgia of the soul all human beings feel. That the lyric opening theme of the Largo should spontaneously suggest the words ‘Goin’ home, goin’ home’ is natural enough, and that the lines that follow the melody should take the fo rm of a negro spiritual accords with the genesis of the symphony. — William Arms Fisher, Boston, July 21, 1922.

Being at home, walking, on Feb. 29, my idea of home began expanding in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I certainly was going to have plenty of time to think about it.

I hunkered back down, dwelling on the journey ahead. It’s a journey that involves travel in a brave, new world, but from home. Where is the heart in that?

In early March, I began realizing that this Leap Year of 2020 will be remembered by most, not just as a time of reflection and slowing down, but also a time of incredulity and chaos. Mixed in with the chaos, I’d add feeling baffled and impeded.

The month was baffling. The presidential campaign was down to the “two old white men” – who are my age; and the last woman candidate dropped out before the Michigan primary. Not that I was for her necessarily, but I do want to see a woman president in my lifetime. And I do have (wink) a necklace inscribed with the famous last words: and still she persisted.

All winter I’d felt impeded enough. We weren’t traveling anywhere, somehow sensing a looming reality of quarantine. By March, the possibility appeared imminent, with the first inkling of having to make personal decisions about coronavirus.

Daily awareness rose, as the death numbers trickled in. Would they hold the memorial service for our longtime friend? They did. We ventured out the first Sunday in March to attend, along with our forever group of friends. Folks streamed into the church on that beautiful, sunny, warm day, as we came to gather for final goodbyes. We felt fairly comfortable; people were mindful and hand sanitizing was available throughout. Yet, you knew everyone was wondering what the next few days would bring. Turns out, that was our last large gathering. That day was also the last time we’d collect in church pews, or sit around a table sharing a meal with friends or family.

We hunkered back down at home, where we hang our hearts in all weather and all seasons.

There’s nothing like having to shelter in place when the season shouts springtime. Sounds of spring peepers propelled us excitedly outside, but only into our yard. First day of spring newscasts recorded a weather whiplash. Tornadoes pummeled the Midwest, while coronavirus spiked in the heartland. That’s all we need now, we thought: tornadoes and pandemics.

Then came the United States State Department advisory calling those abroad to return home, or shelter in place. The news flash sent a chill down my spine. This is for real. I recalled the history channel documentary about George Washington and the founding of our country, which I’d watched during President’s Week. Suddenly, that revolutionary time seemed at once far away, and up close and personal. Both involve our homeland – then and now.

The documentary, viewed from 2020, reminded me: How much do I really appreciate my homeland? And where exactly is homeland for me? Now, 244 years later, I wonder how much do we, collectively, appreciate this land, the revolution to found it, to fight for it – this place where we hang our hearts – our homeland.

A classic view of someone’s homeland often means having to leave it, in order to find it. I’m reminded of the movie The Sound of Music. Another song plays through my head. I hear Julie Andrews singing Edelweiss, as the VonTrapp family escapes their beloved Austria, during World War II, for the safety of the Swiss Alps. Bless my homeland forever…

The Sound of Music exploded onto movie screens everywhere in 1965, the year I graduated from college. I would discover the deeper meaning of homeland during a summer in Paris, the following year. That was my first time far away from home. I was far from home, yet the discovery was being able to feel at home in another country. I couldn’t comprehend it. How could I grow up in a small quiet, farming community in mid-Michigan, yet feel at home across the pond, afar, in a multi-cultural, teeming metropolis.

The odd thing was, I wasn’t ready to come back so soon. Plus, you’d think I’d have returned by now, if I loved it so much. That never worked out. The memory of that experience – hanging my heart in another place — stayed with me, though. Even coming back home to Michigan, I wasn’t returning to my hometown, but to that other town where I’d settled after college. Wow, I was beginning to rack up beloved heart places in this adventure called life.

I hunkered back down, in the blur that was April, settling into the idea of the places where you hang your heart.

So, where is home? Sometimes you don’t know where to hang your heart. Is it your hometown? The town where your spouse is from? Is it the place, or places, where you’ve settled down at various points along life’s journey?

I think geographically, home can be where you are drawn to be…a place that feels good, that brings joy. So, sometimes home is even more than one place at a time. Today my heart feels at home in my husband’s hometown. It feels at home in all the environs we’ve shared in Livingston County for all but one year of our married life. I’ve felt at home in Florida where my in-laws retired. Who knew we’d miss it so when my father-in-law passed away three years ago. It was a struggle to decide to sell it, along with all the memories.

I’ve become attached to places I’ve stayed for just awhile – a week, two weeks, or several– traveling in our RV, staying with our daughter at their various homes, the resort in Cancun when our son got married, the retreat center I frequented for several sessions a decade ago in southwestern Virginia. There I immersed myself in the Blue Ridge Mountains so much that, in my heart it’s a second home. I’d definitely hang it there.

So, I’ve determined that I’m able to hang my heart in many places. Yet always, I’m glad to be home, the home where I am currently residing. I’m glad to be here, just to be, me, at home. Home, ideally, is the place where we can be ourselves; it’s where we’re accepted just the way we are. You can’t get any better than that.

Hunkering down at home in April 2020, Earth Day reflections seemed to abound on a grander scale this year. I sensed a greater intention of focus worldwide. Earth Day each April intends to remind us of our global community, our shared home, our planet. During the height of the pandemic, one doctor sent out a plea to listeners to keep part of your heart on those in other countries and places.

Another newscast hearkened back to a speech made by President John F Kennedy at American University in 1963. The subject was world peace. While the issue was nuclear war, today we include pandemics, climate change and cultural issues of racial inequality. Kennedy said: In the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal.

On a Twitter feed one day, someone commented about all the wild storms and weather events this spring. They pictured the planet as Momma Earth being angry with us; and she was sending us to our rooms for a time out. I laughed at this amazing, and fitting, concept for this moment in our history: A timeout for Earth Day.

A time out, for global citizens to envision the big blue marble, the planet we call home, the blue dot, the sweet spot. When I envision it, I’m reminded somehow of the blockbuster film Avatar. The movie involved themes that the world struggles with today, especially the destruction of the rain forest, global racism and the exploitation of tribal cultures.

Avatar gripped our psyche then; and I’ve been waiting a decade for the sequel. We could surely use it now. I think of the Home Tree, the native peoples’ lands being overridden, the destruction of the environment. Earth Day this year brought thoughts of prayer for such collective grief and sadness on a planetary level. On Earth Day – in the midst of the 2020 global pandemic – I hoped that creative beings around the globe, would get down to the creative business of keeping it habitable for eons to come. Bless our homeland, Earth, our sweet spot in the galaxy. May we keep it.

On April 29, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the CDC [Center for Disease Control] offered a ray of hope about a drug trial showing positive effects for treatment of the virus. That also was the day of the shocking national death toll climbing to 60,000. May Day, then, brought that tiny note of hope. To us, though, it felt like another Goundhog Day…another wave of frigid weather, waiting for hummingbirds to arrive. Hummingbirds, my personal ray of hope, would face frozen sugar water, if they were out there. Ha…getting my hopes up too early, once again.

I hunkered down in May, yet again at home. I was learning to hunker down in my heart, being my heart at home. There would be a few more Groundhog Days to endure, needing patience and persistence. I’ve obviously more time to sort through things. What will I discover? What is my real work? I ask this question, looking to the future, assuming a future to look to. Have I begun my real journey? Where does it lead?

My pandemic journey, I know, ultimately leads me home. My real work is at home… here… in my sphere. I see home as a retreat for your heart, and for your creative spirit. It is the sanctuary where you can be yourself. It’s where life happens. Home can also be your heart, and being at home in it. Ultimately, home is wherever you are in your heart.

Home involves so many feelings about our hearts. If home has a color, a certain paint company considers it might just be ruby… as in L.Frank Baum’s Wizard of OZ and Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Dorothy clicks her ruby slippers together three times. There’s no place like home. Home from Oz.

I laughed at times, during this corona quarantine, thinking of the irony. Life is often so busy, we find ourselves saying, Stop the world I want to get off. We wish we could escape, get away to Oz. What if away is your back yard for several months? What if Oz is really home?

I hunker back down, sheltering in place, dwelling on thoughts of home, but also of when we’ll leave it. Are we ready for this work, this journey?

Beginning to come out of quarantine in mid-May, the spring greenery is of field-of-dreams intensity this year. Having been cooped up inside in the shadows for months, the landscape seems blinding. Despite the mega numbers in death and unemployment statistics, Michiganders begin to creak the door open, to gingerly step outside– masks on. Time to step into the sunlight.

Beyond the necessary grocery runs, we’re thinking about how we’ll reengage. We’re thinking of getting our hair cut, of going to the dentist – events we took for granted all our lives. We’re trying out social distancing in tiny groups. By Memorial Day,we celebrate – inching our way toward the new normal. For us, it was a birthday gathering for me with family, appreciating a few hours spent outside – together, yet apart – simply enjoying wonderful takeout food in the back yard.

Fully aware of the death toll having surpassed a staggering 100,000 Americans, by the end of May we realize we must trudge ahead, to bravely navigate our personal journey. The hallmarks of this pandemic – from my perspective in the province of Parcheta – are patience, persistence and resilience … and practicing being patient, persistent and resilient. Throw in a little courage in the mix, as well.

Many Americans – and amazingly, citizens in countries around the world – found the courage to march in the streets, persistently protesting injustices. A pandemic is essentially intrinsic to everyone, by its global reach. A pandemic disrupts all our lives. It’s a significant impediment, beyond any we might imagine, in an apocalyptic sense…meaning an event you couldn’t imagine happening in your lifetime.

The hummingbirds arrived in May, happily signaling the courage to be persistent in patience…and patient in the persistence to hope. Seeking calm in the chaos of these times, patience seems the byword. As the universally loved poet Rumi advised: Be patient where you sit in the dark…Dawn is coming.

In the backdrop of this pandemic, our homeland deals now with civic unrest, and never-ending masses rallying in the streets for justice, equality, dignity in all aspects of our lives. Some say we’re in the eye of the storm. Perhaps this time is truly an inflection point for a sizable shift. Perhaps the dawn is truly coming. Perhaps the time is here to fix our homeland.

The impeded stream is the one that sings. Hunkering down at home, that familiar place our heart resides, we search for our song…knowing that despite impediments, we’re called to sing. We might imagine a song for the world.

Home is where you hang your heart. It’s your spiritual healing garden, where you nurture your mind, body, spirit… your family, your purpose. Maybe the pandemic will teach us that there’s a larger spiritual purpose that we may all tap into. Maybe there might be a cultural renaissance that blooms from this global experience. Patiently, persistently, resiliently…we can hope.

During our hunkering down times at home in the months ahead, may we discover the words to our song…the real work on our collective and epic journey.

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Susan G Parcheta dreamed of being an inspirational writer, even as heading off after college to a teaching job. While teaching was not her passion, words were -- writing many years for Livingston newspapers, especially in the areas of education, health and wellness. The dream continues: to inspire creative, healthy living and to explore new concepts of body, mind, spirit. Her signature theme “All Things Beautiful” invites you to embrace the beauty and imagine the possibilities that life has to offer. She lives in Gregory with her husband, Jerry, and their fluffy, pointy-eared -- and always lovable -- cat, Spock.

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