Columns 2015

Home is defined in many, many ways

I used to have big dogs that loved to walk. My three new ones came with a different idea about walking and the outside. They are little dogs. The girl won’t even go out for her bodily needs once it’s below 32 degrees. Both the boys love going out for about ten to twenty seconds. Then they are done with the walk and it’s time to go get warm and get treats. I soon realized I needed something to substitute for the miles I was no longer walking. I got a stationary bike. And believe it or not, I use it every night. Finally, a piece of exercise equipment that isn’t a clothes deposit system in my living room.

I work from my home. My dogs are with me twenty-four hours a day. This creates what some might call a tight bond and others might call a significant neurosis on the part of the dogs. If I am farther than five feet away, they panic and have to get up and move to wherever I am. So when I move from the kitchen to the living room couch, they all follow. If I get up from the couch to use the bike, which is less than three feet away, they have to also get up and reposition themselves on blankets directly behind the bike. I assume this is on the off chance the bike might take off and they’ll need to follow. The little girl is the only one who doesn’t follow this routine. Since I put the heating pad under her bed, she doesn’t like to get all that far from it. Not even the distant screeching of the parrots can rouse her when the heat hits her belly.

This is my home. This is my life. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. For me a roof over my head, a heater blowing hot air and a toilet that flushes are my minimum requirements. Warm cuddly dogs and loud joyous birds are just an added bonus. But after following the stories in last week’s ADN about some of the homeless in Anchorage, I realize that home can be defined in many ways. And a lot of those ways would horrify most of us.

The people highlighted in those stories were both homeless and alcoholic. It’s that last part that causes us to start losing any sympathy we might have felt. If all they have to do is stop drinking to get their lives together and get off the street, then they should just do that, right? Just grab those bootstraps and pull yourself up.

But maybe it’s not so easy. And maybe what we call home is not something everyone might want. Or maybe it’s not something everyone can attain. Alcoholism is a deadly disease. The physical problems it can cause often stay with someone years after sobriety has been achieved. Achieving and maintaining sobriety is often a goal beyond the reach of someone whose body and brain have already been ravaged by alcohol. But a good look at the camp sites being dismantled and reassembled all over town shows a sense of home is still alive and well in this population in the way those tents are filled with personal items and life’s memorabilia.

As I read the articles, I found myself going beyond the alcoholism and seeing people who still wanted a home, even if it was just a tent in the woods. And people who still wanted love and companionship, even if it is of a variety that is hard for most of us to comprehend. In the end, the heart wants what it wants and doesn’t care about the circumstances that would seem to preclude love ever being present. What this piece taught me above all else is that these people we see on the corners looking dirty and smelly and holding sloppily inked signs are very much human beings with all the same wants and desires and needs as the rest of us. For some reason, whether mental illness, substance abuse, or just bad, bad luck, they ended up on the streets while you drive by in your warm car on your way to your warm home.

In the end, it wasn’t the differences I remembered. It was the humanity we have in common. To paraphrase John Bradford, “There but for the grace of god, go I”.