That elusive search for home – Fiona puts it so well in today’s contribution, in which I can feel her ache and yearning. For me an unexpected gift of this series is hearing stories from fellow writers in which they peel back a layer and expose a soft and tender part of themselves, as Fiona does today. I’m grateful.
Today is my daughter’s last day at primary school. No doubt I’ll be shedding bucket-loads of tears at her final assembly and remembering the first day she entered those school gates. Apart from this last year (with the SATS debacle) it’s been a wonderful, nurturing environment for her to grow and learn in. And thanks to some kind and gifted teachers, a home from home.
I contrast that to my own experience. When I was my daughter’s age (11 ½) I had already been to five different schools, excluding nursery: three in England and two in South Africa. My brother, 18 months older, had been to seven. We had moved house and continent a number of times – and changed schools within the same town – as my parents endeavoured to give us what they hoped would be a better life. Their motivation was good, I understand that, but it had unforeseen emotional, social and psychological consequences.
Not all of it was bad. I was ‘forced’, in an adapt-or-die way, to become more socially outgoing and confident when I was naturally more quiet and reticent. Reticence didn’t make you new friends or help you fit in, I found. I also became much more pro-active about life in general. I became an independent self-starter, and that has served me well in setting up and running my own freelance business. I have a philosophy that if I don’t do it, no one will do it for me.
But the negative side included my loss of a sense of home. Fortunately, between the ages of 13 and 17 I was settled in one school and one house. However, my mother became disabled during those years, and my dad unemployed, so that diluted the stability I was just beginning to enjoy. During my teens and twenties I had recurring dreams of looking for ‘home’. The home was always my grandma’s house in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and she was always waiting for me at the kitchen door with her plump little body ready to embrace me.
Even now, in my writing, I see the search for home, or being displaced from home, as a recurring theme. In my latest series of children’s books, Young Joseph starts each of his adventures by dreaming of his home in Canaan and praying that one day he can return. In my new adult mystery novel, coming out this September, two of the characters are refugees fleeing a war zone, wishing they were home.
Yet through it all – for my characters and for me – there is God. He ‘found’ me when I was 11 – the same age as my daughter is now – and impressed on me that He would be with me always, that He was my true home. Jesus calls us to abide in Him. I translate that as ‘to find my home in Him.’ ‘Find your home in me and I will make my home in you.” (John 15:4, my paraphrase).
The Franciscan monk Richard Rohr speaks of ‘homesickness’ as a longing to find our true home in God. I couldn’t agree more.
Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series (to be published August 2016) are available from SPCK. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series, is published by Lion Fiction, the second, The Kill Fee, will be coming out in September 2016. Her novel The Peace Garden is self-published under Crafty Publishing http://fiona.veitchsmith.com www.poppydenby.com.