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SEP. 15, 2016

Permutations of Home

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This week, the students are writing their first English paper of the semester. The topic, appropriately, is on understanding the abstract concept of “home,” either through a definition essay or a personal narrative. There is a reason Katie assigns this topic, of course. For many of our students, the idea of “home” is often limited to their primary residence, their town, and their family. To now be faced with a supplementary idea of home can be disruptive to their internal narrative, and homesickness, doubt and reflection are natural byproducts of this transition.

One of the best parts of my job is having weekly check-ins with the students. These last few weeks, I’ve had many conversations with them about home. They share, almost baffled by their own emotions, how they are suddenly missing their siblings, their parents, their friends and their pets. They are surprised by the specificity of the things they miss: a particular dinner, going to the grocery store with their mom, arguing with their little sister, a certain tree in the backyard. These are the nuts and bolts of home, of belonging; these are the things taken for granted until suddenly they are gone. I always smile when I hear these stories, because I know when they return home, it will be with new eyes. Suddenly the luxury of being able to open the refrigerator whenever they want will be a magical experience, as will the comfort of their own bed now that they can compare it to sleeping on the ground for many nights in a row. I know that the return from this journey will be just as full of unexpected revelations as the journey itself.

But for now, we, as a semester, are creating a new permutation of “home.” We are learning how to start and close each day together, how to live and learn and work together and do what needs to be done. We are figuring out how to build an intentional community, how to communicate with each other honestly and resolve conflict, and how to be vulnerable and take the risk of opening up and sharing who we really are. Yesterday, during our Landscape, Skyscape Cornerstone Day, we found ourselves standing on the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment at Caesars Head State Park. On one side the mountains rose up in a ripple of peaks towards the Blue Ridge Parkway, while on the other side they tumbled down to the flat plains of South Carolina. Ted taught the students about their geological home here at OA, nestled on the edge of a tectonic upheaval. Racheal added a new layer of home to the picture, helping students understand our unique weather patterns that bring us such magnificent thunderstorms. And students are adding their own layers: impromptu Frisbee games on Cabin 7 field, laughing while doing dinner clean-up, singing while shoveling mulch onto trails, holding hands in a moment of silence to give thanks, and, yes, crying on each other’s shoulders when they are feeling homesick. As this new home forms in their minds and hearts, it will not diminish the home they have left behind. Rather, they will begin to learn the important life skill of being able to hold multiple permutations of home in their heart at the same time, giving thanks for all the variances and challenges each one offers. Home is safety. Home is acceptance. Home is belonging. Home is laughter. Home is…

Susan Tinsley DailyDean of Students