Et al. presents: On Home

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“Home is the nicest word there is.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Home. This word means something different for everyone. While everyone has different experiences and emotions attached to it, we all share three qualities: we’ve all come from a home, we all have a home now and we will all have the opportunity to build a home in the future. We should appreciate the home we come from. This home we have is never a matter of choice.

Be it fate, design or chance, we all find our roots in a given (as opposed to chosen) family--the people we grow up with and who define so much of who we are today. We can find great joy or mighty grief in our family, but we tend to find a mix of both, some with different proportions than others. Whatever the case, our first home shapes us, and its important to be aware of and appreciative of that fact.

Even if you’ve had a difficult time with your family, that challenging experience molded and strengthened your character. As the War Doctor intones in "Doctor Who," “Great men [and women!] are forged in fire.” Weathering a difficult time can be tiresome and painful, but we emerge the other end stronger than ever for having survived. Some families, by the way, can seem oppressive, but in fact have your best interests in mind. Try to be honest with yourself about their hopes and intentions before indemnifying them.

Your second home is radically different from your first because you get to choose it. It is composed of the friends and mentors you surround yourself with after you depart your first home. Some don’t see the second home as having much of an impact. But, relatively free from the influence of your first home, I believe your second home shapes you in powerful ways. The friends and mentors you seek out will form an example for you to follow in this extremely formative time period. So choose wisely. Find people whose telos echoes your own. Place yourself with those who share a common purpose and end regarding the people they are or want to be, and you will flourish.

We come now to your third home: the one we’ll all build when we leave this life of academia and plunge into that deep, dark ocean called “real life.” Whether you’re there yet or not, it’s important to give thought to the kind of home we want to build in our future. This is another home that you have immense control of. Again, who do you want to surround yourself with? Who do you want to spend your weekends with? Are they driving you towards a better life, or letting you stagnate (or worse yet, dragging you further away from where you want to be)?

And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the home you might build with the person you dedicate your life to in marriage. If you decide to have a family, you are now helping to build the first home of a new generation. No matter what the state of your first home was, you now have a clean slate to create a constructive environment for your children to flourish in. Few opportunities are as great and as ignored as this.

Home is not a place--it is a community. If I’ve made any point at all in this column, I hope I’ve conveyed that community really, really matters, and you should treat it that way. Wherever you are in this three-part process, ask whether you’ve shown your homes the love and appreciation that they merit. If not, you’ve got some work to do. Don’t worry, I do too.

Questions for further pondering:

1. Is it true that difficult families build character? If not, why?

2. How strong of an influence do our friends really have over us?

et al-Ben Gotchel