My Dad recently asked me as he dropped me off at the ferry terminal to travel back to Victoria from Vancouver, “Do you feel like you’re leaving home or going home?”
Home. That word’s been on my mind lately as I’ve just set up a new home in Victoria. Yet where I grew up is still home and where I did my undergraduate degree is home too.
It’s strange how fluid the concept of home is. We can carry multiple versions of home around with us, and they don’t have to cancel each other out.
I see home as a tension between leaving and returning. It’s the starting point, the place you leave to step out and make your own place in the world. But it’s also the reference point by which to measure how far you’ve gone, how you’ve changed, what you’ve learned, and what you’re bringing back.
There’s one painting that I think brilliantly captures this tension of home as an in-between space of coming and going. I attended a conference at Carleton in 2009 where David Jarraway from the University of Ottawa talked about the representations of home in Canadian and American Literature. And I remember being struck by this image he showed:
Unlike a lot of other paintings depicting the American homestead, Jarraway said that it unusually shows the subject – Christina – looking back towards home, the object of her gaze, rather than away. She isn’t sitting on a threshold dreaming of what lies beyond, like this one:
Christina has left home, and yet she looks back. Her whole body is bent towards home, not just her gaze. She’s reaching for it. Sometimes it takes distance to get a proper reading or sighting of home. (I should also note that Christina was Wyeth’s neighbour who suffered from polio, resulting in her inability to walk).
Through art, Wyeth has created a language in all the empty space between Christina and her home – a language of longing. As Jalaluddin Rumi says, “All language is a longing for home.”
To me, this painting is not so much about Christina or her home even though it’s called “Christina’s World.” It’s about the space in-between, the gap between us and the object of our longing, and all the ground that covers.
In answer to my Dad’s question, both.