About Home, I have talked about my childhood place where I call Home, where I don’t need my private room. Now I want to tell you my being-home journey. Growing up, along my journeys, here and there… I have been sheltered under the roofs of many other homes.
The home where…
I was hosted in the house of a Christian family to celebrate Christmas in Italy.
I was invited to stay with of a mix African-European Muslim family in Switzerland to celebrate the Ramadan end.
I spent my retreat time living with Buddhist monastics in France, called Plum Village.
I used to stay with the owner, a Catholic nun, who was my friend, in a remote highland area of Vietnam during my backpacking trips.
I was indulged in good food by a rural Japanese family, during my studying trip.
And it was my home on an unbelievably packed train for a month-long journey across India.
That was my home for a month when I lived in a camping tent surrounded by nature, slept with ants and all kinds of insects underneath, shined by moon light above during the night, joined by summer storms from day to day.
Along my journeys, I have also been hosted in the home of many friends across Europe, the people of great hospitality. And of course across Vietnam, from the North to the South and up to the remote mountain, I can hardly remember all the places I’ve stayed.
All those homestays, long or short, are truly blessing to me for I felt loved and cared anywhere I’ve been.
And yet, there is this house where I have been living for several months, the house that gives me a different look of how a home could be like.
This is home to an ordinary Portuguese family, living in an old apartment building in the center of Lisbon. This is a crazy house as they name it, where everyone self-identifies as a little bit wacky. This is the home that makes me feel evermore blessed.
Here is how that home looks like.
The home houses a grandfather – an old sick and immobilised man at his dying stage with Alzheimer, and he screams mostly all day long. The granddaughter, youngest member in the family, is a 10 year-old kid. Next person is the kid’s mother who has suffered from bipolar disorder from her young age. Stays here also a post-rehab alcoholic man, the family’s friend, whose bed is a sofa in the living room.
And, comes the big boss, the father of the kid, son of the grandfather, and husband of the woman, who takes care of the whole family, by running a home-based business with his son, collecting and selling antique toys. He works, cooks, cleans, shops, and takes care of the old sick man.
And there are still some more, the house is home for a married couple, the son and his wife, who are my friends, who invited me to share their roof during a challenging period of my life when I haven’t found a proper place to stay.
In this house, where…
a professional cook, as a job for living, has the cooking option with only super blunt knives and a broken oven in the kitchen.
an antique toy seller could take hours to dig out the trash bin to find his toys because his housemates sometimes mistakenly throw his precious and expensive toys into the trash.
the only kid in the house never cleans her room, and comes home from school with lice all over her super-curly hair.
and, there is daily shouting at breakfast time between mother and the kid, and weekly battle between father and daughter on the cleaning duty of the kid’s room.
and there has been tireless efforts of the Asians trying to lure the less risk-taking Westerners in the family to taste exotic Vietnamese and Asian foods.
and an environmental scientist toiled patiently “in secret”, day by day, trying to classify the garbage paper, glass, recycled, non-recycled, compost… while everyone else seems too forgetful to do so.
the kitchen sink, most of the time, is full of dishes, until whoever has time to clean, or is in a cleaning mood. No one forces anyone else to clean.
In principle, not everyone can speak and understand others’ mother tongue, but everyone manages to understand each other well. All are cool.
So basically, those little things happen day by day, week by week in the house where, not always but most of the time, is messy and piled up with all kinds of stuff, thanks to the family’s only common hobby of hoarding. So, everyone has learned an unspoken rule that no touching or throwing things that you are not sure whose it is, even it might somehow look rubbish.
In this house of laugh, noise, sadness, shouting, with all kinds of music, no one is distressed, no one despairs.
And I’m actually not the only one who has been sheltered. The family has opened their door for friends and strangers who are in need, who are in their time of jobless or sickness.
Sometimes, my friends and the mother of the house check on me if I felt comfortable living in the house, or if it is too noisy for me since the house is quite, you know, not in order.
I said, “I am OK, I like living here”. Honestly, I find this home is not much different from my family’s home back in Vietnam. My family has been hosting so many people, friends and relatives. I can’t count them all. Even now with my Mom suffering serious illness.
Looking back about 15 years ago, my Mom occasionally lectured my aunt whom I love a lot, a carefree woman with a loud laughing all day long, that my aunt’s house was always messy with lots of people. Mom told my aunt things like, “Your nephews, your nieces, your friends of friends need to be independent. You can’t just hold everyone in your house like that”. Every time, my aunt just laughed out loud.
Compared to my aunt’s home, my parent’s home, of course, was much less messy but stil, talking to myself, “Come on, look at our house Mom! How many people, friends, relatives you have hosted.”
Last year, a friend of mine from a far away city in Vietnam came to visit us when my Mom just came home from the hospital. My sister, who is living with my parents, questioned me this, “Why didn’t you ask her to stay over our house, does she has a place to stay in the city?”. Then, I told my sister, “My friend, she is on a business trip and has only little time to visit Mom.”
I thought, “Are you serious, sister, you have a patient – Mom – to take care, an 95 year old grandma and a dog in the house, adding some other relatives temporarily living there. Where on earth my friend is going to find a place in the house?” But, I guess my sister didn’t think of that at all. I never said that to my sister either.
Once, our neighbour came to visit my Mom, in an honest way she bursted out, “Wow, you have a patient in the house, with a big dog and your house is so clean, it is not smelly at all. This is incredible!” I couldn’t help laughing so much with my Mom when our neighbour left.
So, that’s how my parents’ home normally looks like.
I used to host friends in Vietnam whenever I am home in Vietnam (correctly in my parent’s home). Once some friends asked me, “Don’t you ever think that hosting your friends would interfere with your family privacy?” – “No”, immediately I answered.
I’d never thought of that family privacy. I only needed to ask Mom, “Mom, my friend is coming next week, she will stay for few days to a week, okay.” That’s it. Then Mom said OK. Done! I never had to ask my Mom twice.
I always shared room with my sister back home in Vietnam so when my friends stayed over, my sister only needed to sleep at my Mom’s room.
Even I never thought if my family was too poor to host or not. Growing up a bit more I found out that we were actually quite poor compared to many families, but surprisingly many of my friends are not confident enough to host friends, especially foreigners, because they think their house is not nice enough. I never had that thought either.
I also used to host many friends at my own tiny renting room in shared flats. I like hosting friends when they travel across Europe. Usually, my hosted friends stay in the living room, if my flat had one, or on the floor in my room if the flat didn’t have a living room.
Now, come back to the home where I have been living. I’ve shared with some friends about that very house and they said, “You know what, those are rich people, truly rich in the heart.”
Living in this house reminds me the truth that I am blessed for I was raised in the home of people who are simply rich in the heart. I have been sheltered by uncountable Bodhisattvas’ hearts. And, my life has been protected by many angels and by the grace of God on this Earth Home.
I so love the song Heart of Gold by Young Neil, about a burning whispering of a youngster in his soul searching journey, a thirst to find the meaning of life, to seek for the Truth.
Let me tell you, we need not to search for a heart of gold to quench our thirst, to fulfill our quest. Just look deeply, the Golden gem is here in our heart, it is our true nature. It is home to the Gold of our hearts, once we dwell in it, it shall always spread light along our journeys.