Word Magazine February 1965 Page 12-13
THE MEANING OF HOME
An address delivered at St. George Annual Banquet, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
By Samuel Hazo
Associate Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
It is a difficult thing to define a Christian home. If the basis of a Christian home is the presence of love and understanding, then it could possibly be said that the real qualities of a Christian home are not different from those of any other home worthy of the name. .. except perhaps in externals, rituals, customs. What are some of these qualities? Perhaps the best way to answer this question is to discuss some of the meanings of a home as such. How is a home distinguished from a house? Does a home have to do with a particular place, with particular people?
The late Robert Frost has a line in a poem called “The Death of the Hired Man” which reads: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” The implication of this is that home is characterized by a basic open-ness, a basic hospitality. It is this which the Arabic-speaking people try to suggest when they say to their guests, “My home is your home (Bayti baytek).” Of course, this has its harsh side which was revealed when Salah el Din Yusuf Ibn Ayub personally decapitated a man who had violated his hospitality. And it has its gracious side which was shown when the present young king of Jordan refused to cross his legs in the presence of a guest because it was considered rude to show the sole of one’s shoe to such a person.
Actually, this type of open-ness is only a beginning. It simply leads to the basic feeling that home is really where you feel at home, where you feel most hospitably received, most free to be exactly who you are and to grow in that awareness. A home of any kind has this kind of spirit.
If there is any basic quality that should characterize a Christian home, that quality is a sense of place. This sense of place means that people see a relationship between their home and the home next door as well as a relationship of their home to the community, to the city, to the state, to the country, to the world, to the world of a century ago, twenty centuries ago and so on. In other words, no real home exists in a vacuum; no real home can exist in isolation. It defines itself by its relationship to other homes in other places and other times.
This sense of place is important. One of the dangers besetting our country at this moment is a deep rootlessness. Are we becoming economic gypsies? Do we still have a deep sense of community? Is our attitude toward home simply an attitude toward so much real estate? Is this rootlessness why people in New York recently could actually hear and see a girl being attacked repeatedly and simply shrug it off as none of their business? This indifference or rootlessness is not homelessness. It is anti-home. It is opposed to the simple idea that the development of a sense of place takes time, that homes are to be lived in, to be friendly in, to read in, to sing in, to have differences in. This, of course, takes time, and many of the rootless gypsies in our country do not have the time.
Possibly the best way to suggest what a home really is is to describe how a person feels when he is away from home or when he is trying to reach home or when he simply has no home to which to go. We all can share in these feelings. We all know what homesickness is. We all know how anxiously we have wanted to reach home at one time or another. We simply cannot rest until we are home. Books have been written about this. The Odyssey, which is one of the greatest novels ever written, is held together by this simple theme …. the desire of a man to go home to his wife and son after twenty years of fighting and wandering around the Mediterranean.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate what this state called home really is is to place ourselves in the position of someone who has no home. This summer my wife and I traveled in the Middle East, driving from Beirut to Jerusalem through the old Roman town of Jerash. In Jerusalem I met a young boy named Fawzi, whose family had been driven from Beersheba and who would come to Jerusalem during the tourist season in order to shine shoes to earn money for his mother and himself. Oddly enough, when he shined my shoes, he refused to accept my money. I have never forgotten this boy or his homeless plight and how he retained his pride even in these conditions and I tried to suggest these things in a poem I wrote entitled “For Fawzi in Jerusalem.”
Leaving a world too old to name and too undying to forsake,
I flew the cold, expensive sea toward Columbus’ mistake
where life could never be the same for me.
In Jerash on the sand I saw the colonnades of Rome
bleach in the sun like skeletons. Behind my father’s sister’s home
armed soldiers guarded no man’s land between Jordanians and Jews.
Opposing sentries frowned and spat. Fawzi, we mocked in Arabic
this justice from Jehoshophat before you shined my Pittsburgh shoes for nothing,
Why you never kept the coins I offered you is still your secret and your victory.
Saying you saw Israelis kill your father while Beershebans wept for mercy in the holy war,
you told me how you stole to stay alive. You must have thought I thought your history would make me pay a couple of piastres more than any shine was worth – and I was ready to – when you said, “No, I never take. I never want America to think I throw myself on you. I never lie.”
I watched your young but old man’s stare demand the sword to flash
again in blood and flame from Jericho and leave the bones of these new men of Judah bleaching in the air like Roman stones upon the plain of Jerash. Then you faced away.
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, I asked myself if I could pray for peace and not recall the pain you spoke. But what could praying do? Today I live your loss in no man’s land but mine, and every time I talk of fates not just but so, Fawzi. my friend, I think of you.
This is homelessness. Perhaps we could say finally that home is what you miss when you don’t have it; I am sure that homeless people could tell us what home is; I am equally sure that this homeless boy in Jerusalem could tell us what home is. But we who have homes should resist all those forces from without and from within that would keep us from knowing sacredly and intimately what a home really is. Perhaps, ultimately home is what you hold and what you are. Unless we hold and are what a home really is and can be, then we hold nothing and are nothing.