The best books, the ones with deepest meaning—the ones we know upon our first engagement with them that we will go to them over and over again—invariably have an interesting genesis.
Möbius: Meditations on Home, by first-time writer W. David Hubbard, is no exception. Born of a question asked after the celebration of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday at the Kennedy Center, as a group of participants stopped to look at an exhibit of displaced peoples from around the world, this collection of reflections and meditations on the meaning of home is timely, profound, and, in my case, cause for misty eyes.
I have been a longtime fan of poetry and other writing that functions as a meditation. My longtime friend and subject of several of my reviews, the poet Ed Baker, who left us for the eternal home several years ago, wrote meditations on home restorations, and, even in his more traditional work, there was always a sense of searching for, celebrating, and marking the boundaries of home.
Why Möbius? As the back cover tells us, this is a book of “minimal meditations [that] is a circular quest that seeks to explore the common subject of home.”
Common indeed. Unavoidable. The search, the sense, the unsurety and insecurity for many when it comes to that deceptively simple one-syllable word: home.
As I engaged with Hubbard’s meditations, I found myself in a semi-trance state that evoked meditations of my own. In response to Hubbard’s initial response to the question posed by his colleague: “How do you know when you are home?,” which was Wherever you go, there you are, I immediately thought of both Buckaroo Banzai and Steven Wright’s quip about staying at an Existentialist Hotel. The lobby map said “You are here” all over it.
When Hubbard quoted Robert Frost—Home is the place where , when you go there, they have to take you in—it recalled to me Eli Wallach’s line in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: “Even a tramp like me, no matter what happens, I know there’s always a brother who won’t refuse me a bowl of soup.”
Hubbard’s search is not confined to the search for home. Not solely. There are other, equally poignant threads in this tapestry he weaves. For instance, when he says, “Through the years I have learned to pay special attention to my first thoughts in the morning,” this evokes not only The Power of Positive Thinking (Norman Vincent Peale) but more modern practices advocated by motivational and spiritual speakers and seekers, such as Joe Dispenza. Such attention to your mind-state and co-creation of your day is essential, no matter where you are. It is also useful when analyzing your dreams and applying their lessons.
One of my favorite meditations of Hubbard’s is: “To wake up with peace is a gift.”
In these very Troubled Times, this is a gift that many of us are lacking.
As Hubbard searches for his answer, he asks other questions: Is home love? Is home other people? Sure. At times. Under certain conditions. But certainly not always. Not when, in America, a major concern about non-homeschoolers having to study from home—even at the college level—due to the pandemic has been the enhanced level of danger. Danger of violence. Of hunger. Of increased exposure to people who are not able to even care adequately for themselves.
So home can be danger. Home can be fear. Or, in other words, the very opposite of love.
Hubbard includes genealogy and the increasingly popular ancestry tests in his meditations, writing about his own ancestry, “The more I discover, the less I am certain.” I have heard this from others. Some results have caused family controversies when the “wrong type” of ancestry is represented. Others are disappointed they don’t have Native American ancestry, or not as much as they wanted. I guess I am lucky—my family on both sides (who knew each other well prior to my parents marrying) were all from Sicily or southern Italy. As a young man, I derived a lot of pride from my Italian-American, Roman Catholic heritage. It was a source of Identity. Of Pride. And, of course, Home. Home was pasta and meatballs on a Sunday at one of my grandparents’ homes. We alternated weeks. The smells, the knick-knacks, the plastic runners and plastic on the furniture. That was Home, even when my own home was less stable than I would have liked.
A little past the midpoint of the book, Hubbard states, [A]ll great stories are about home. How very true this is. In general, there are only two types of stories: Boy Meets Girl and Stranger in a Strange Land. Both relate to home on several levels. And Thomas Wolfe’s novels Look Homeward, Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again immediately come to mind, in part because of their implied incongruence. This also makes me think of the mythopoetics of the Hero’s Journey, where the leaving of home follows the inciting incident, the “Separation.” One of the clearest examples is any time one of Tolkien’s Hobbits leaves the comfort and security of the Shire (the quintessential home) to seek adventure or right a wrong. Dorothy leaving Kansas for Oz is another.
I also think of the poem “Nirvana” by Charles Bukowski, perhaps one of the greatest meditations on the meaning of home ever written. And, if you really seek a treat, find the version read by Tom Waits. Speaking of poetry, Rumi is a true master of poems on the nature and necessity of home, in the many forms it takes. One of my favorite lines is, “If Light is in your heart, you will always find your way home.”
Page 35 opens with: “After we have committed ourselves/to a journey we are not fully in control of…” In truth, we are never fully in control. Not if we are fully living. As Peter Brook said, defining the role of the director, “he’s the guide to a place he’s never been.” Searching for home is often just the same.
A little further on, Hubbard describes a scene in an unnamed sitcom where the son comes home after his first year of college, falling to his knees in gratitude. Although it is far from everyone’s experience of summers home in between school (just think of poor Harry Potter), it is a powerful image. It recalls to me a ghost I recently encountered in my work as a professional paranormal investigator—a young man, troubled and often in trouble, who one day took his life. He was haunting his parents’ former home, confused and angry because they were no longer there. It was his safe place in life, you see, and he sought it still, even after suicide.
Unfortunately, his presence made a newly blended family feel as though their dream house was now no home at all.
On and on it goes.
Meditating on the final pages of Möbius, I got to thinking about my Facebook profile, where it asks where I am from. How does someone who has moved 20 times in 52 years answer that?
Indeed, it is my wanderlust, and that of my wife, that precipitated some very close friends gifting us this book after attending one of Hubbard’s readings. Nearly a year ago, we were all set to move near to them, to a place that has felt, during our visits, very much like home. But then there was COVID and the plan fell apart, in myriad ways, for myriad reasons. Two other alternatives have since fallen apart as well.
So here we sit, nearly three years on, in a house that, although cozy and kind as a house could possibly be, is not at all a home. Not to us. And it never really has been.
So, then—What is home?
I leave you with this from Hubbard: “we know we are home when an inner feeling of home mirrors the place in time where we know that we belong.”