How to make a home

It is well past the first day of autumn but we have not shivered until today. Tonight I came home late and turned the lights off, save the string of white lights strung above our mantle. I lit the candles and the fire and am sipping tea while one roommate curls up in a cowl-neck scarf and eats leftover chili. Here is when I feel most at home in what is not home, and what I am coming to learn, may not ever be home.

I read a blog yesterday about a mother in Dubai who is making home there, as best she can, amidst all the things that war against her natural instincts.

The world clatters into our haven and tries to thwart us at every turn; we know it waking up and we know it going to sleep. The poet Richard Wilbur called it "the punctual rape of every blessed day" and the language may be harsh, but the days are nothing if not harsh, no?

I thought as I read her writing, home is hard however you make it. She has children underfoot and a husband to cheer and mountains of laundry and I have none of those things. But I do have bills to pay and a home to keep clean and a car whose check-engine light came on today, flashing at me in a fury. And I do these things alone, which, I sometimes think, is just as hard as doing them with a whole family underfoot.

Who of us chooses our cross and bears it well?

But home is what we make of it and we are all making home into something. This whole summer home has felt like a burning log, something bold and beautiful and soon to be only ashes. That is melodramatic, I'm sure, but how many of you with your picket fences and backyard gardens and daily schedules would handle the division of your home any better? I don't mean to compare, I just mean to say, be blessed and stayed in your covenant family because for some of us the front door of our American dream is a revolving one, always taking someone away.

I have to remember that home is what we make of it, but it is only our home for today. Tomorrow it might not be the same, it might not feel the same, and it might not be what we planned.

I have a friend who is getting divorced this year, nobody told her it would be this hard, she said through tears on the phone last week. I didn't know what to say because I did tell her once that it would be this hard. Another friend lost his wife two years ago. He parents on, but life is not what he expected, he says, and what he plans now for his daughters is that life would be an adventure, surprise built into their life. One more friend plans for her future, but there are so many variables she is learning to hold one hand open and one hand loosely—better to not plan too hard, too much, too deep.

When I was young, I'm not embarrassed, I dreamed of being a homemaker, donning an apron and making soup from leftovers. I still do dream of that in my moments of weakness, when I sit myself in a pile of self-pity and bask in the pool of what I think I deserve. But I am finding more and more that making a home is not so much the decor and menu and chore-charts and laundry. Making a home is making do with what I have today even if what I have today is not what I dreamed of having today.

But it is something.

Tonight it is white lights on the mantle and a lit fire, a roommate in her wool sweater and tea, quiet, calm, full and rich. For tonight I am home.