Already Home

9 08 2010

Financial uncertainty, a physical move to an unfamiliar area or to a new house, a health crisis, a divorce or relationship breakup, middle age, and a death can all create a longing for home…a sense of belonging, of the familiar, of claiming a place that is ours, of feeling comforted and comfortable, of feeling safe, and a place we can truly be ourselves.

Barbara Gates - Credit: BarbaraGates.com

This is what Barbara Gates, author of the exquisite book Already Home: A Topography of Spirit and Place, writes about. She struggles to understand her new home in Berkeley, California after a move from New York and to understand the body she calls home as she goes through treatments for breast cancer and strives to live while being mother to a five-year-old daughter and wife to her lawyer husband.

Barbara does extensive research on the house she and her husband remodel limb by limb and on the colorful Ocean View neighborhood she lives in. She wants to know who lived there before she and her neighbors did and what home was like for those people. At first the search is about the physicality of the place, but “home” and “inhabit” take on much bigger…and yet much simpler…meaning.

In an interview with Shambhala Publications, Barbara is asked about finding home right we are and she replies:

Already Home tells a story of neighborliness, about finding connection — with one’s family, oneself, and the folks next door, with whatever presents itself, no matter how off-putting or surprising. I find connection with a homeless woman who sleeps in our family car, a rat in our refrigerator, the bay, trees and streets, and, learning the vast history of my home place, with generations of neighborhood ancestors. In contrast to our global ethic of opposition and reprisal, Already Home offers a much-needed taste of underlying commonality grounded in a sense of home, always available right here and now.

In that same interview, Barbara (who is a Buddhist) talks of interviewing Buddhist monks, who call themselves the “Homeless Ones” because they leave behind their homes. Barbara tells of how that homelessness showed her a different meaning of home:

I was reminded that a house is not a home. No house of bricks or boards could offer me the enduring safety and sustenance I yearned for.  As I became intimate with the place where I lived and settled more fully into a wide sense of myself, I began to glimpse an inner sense of home. No matter who we are, through a shift in perception, we can see it.  We are already home.

In reading this book, I connect with Barbara’s search for home. I, too, recently left behind an area (Austin, Texas), which I had called home for 20 years, to move to the Berkeley area to live near my daughter, son-in-law, and almost one-year-old grandson. This area is so different from my birth home area of east Tennessee and my adopted home area of central Texas. It is much cooler here, the yards are lush with flowers and greenery, and the homes are

A Berkeley Home - Credit: Trip Advisor Website

charming. People I pass on the streets often say “Isn’t it beautiful here? I feel so lucky to live here.” There is a relaxation, comfort, and sense of gratitude that comes with these perfect temperatures and beauty every where you look. If you walk up into the Berkeley hills, you get gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay.

Almost anywhere you can hear the whoosh of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains zipping through the community and offering easy transportation to most anywhere you’d like to go. I sold my car before I moved out here and walk or take the BART (or the occasional bus) everywhere and the worries and expense of gas, car payments, car repairs, car insurance, parking, and traffic are gone for me.

Besides a freedom and sense of adventure in getting around, home takes on additional new meaning for me here. It is being a grandmother who gets to really be a part of my grandson’s life. It is being able to walk over to my daughter’s home after yoga at the YMCA or to the local farmer’s market with her and to have conversations in person that used to be months apart. It is cool air blowing through open windows in the summer and walks at any time of day and never breaking a sweat. It is exploring downtown San Francisco and new neighborhoods…each with their own charm. Home here is a scaling down of things and an expansion of sensual delight, new experiences, and sense of awe and possibility.

I’ve moved enough times in my life to not feel an attachment to any one building as “home”. Instead, I am developing the sense of home that noted Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of (and Barbara Gates quotes in her book):

In East Asia, we speak of the human body as a mini-cosmos. The cosmos is our home, and we can touch it by being aware of our body. Meditation is to be still: to sit still, to stand still, and to walk with stillness. Meditation means to look deeply, to touch deeply so we can realize we are already home.

I did a slow, walking meditation through the Berkeley hills this morning and connected with all the outward beauty I saw. The beauty inside me, which has always been, yearns for deep recognition and reconnection. It is that place that calls out to me and reminds me that I am already home…no matter where I go.

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Connie Keel: Battered, Raped, Imprisoned, Innocent

3 03 2009
Connie Keel and Her Daughter - Courtesy Keel Family

Connie Keel and Her Daughter - Courtesy Keel Family

Regularly raped and beaten by her husband, sexually abused by uncles, neighbors, and friends, and physically abused by her mother, 21-year-old battered woman’s syndrome victim Connie Keel was threatened by her husband and forced to stay in the car in 1980 while her armed husband and his cousin made a non-planned stop at a liquor store to buy cigarettes.  While inside, they robbed the store and killed the clerk.

 Connie, who had nothing to do with what happened, was charged with armed robbery and murder. She has worked hard and taken a lot of  classes to become a new person, but at 50 years old and after 29 years and six parole hearings, she is still in prison.

Adam Reich - Photo by Maria Iacobo

Adam Reich - Photo by Maria Iacobo

Second-year and 25-year-old USC Gould School of Law student Adam Reich has taken up her cause and is doing everything he can to get her released. He created the http://freeconnie.com to raise awareness about Connie’s plight and to urge people to contact Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to ask him to free her. According to that website:

“On October 29, 2008 a parole board determined that Connie Keel is ‘suitable for parole and would not pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society or a threat to public safety if released from prison.'”

According to the USC Gould School of Law web page about Adam’s participation in this case, he said that “When I first decided to go to law school I thought I would be on the corporate track. Once I got here, I learned I could be engaged in promoting justice and having a big impact on someone’s life.”

Governor Schwarzenegger has 20 days now to decide whether to free Connie. You can email him using this State of California governor contact form. The FreeConnie website has made it easy for you by posting a letter you can copy and paste into the contact form.

The ACLU of Southern California also has a web page about this and a form you can send as does the FreeBatteredWomen website. You can view a short WeTV video that features Connie Keel and can read more about battered women’s syndrome at the Divorce and Family Law Center.

Connie Keel, a battered woman and an innocent woman has served 29 years in prison for a crime she did not commit. She was a victim of an abusive husband and family. Please let Governor Schwarzenegger know that you join others who care about nonviolence and justice for women in asking that this woman be at last set free.

UPDATE 3/27/09: San Francisco Chronicle online reports today this great news!

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger today upheld the state parole board’s decision to release a woman who has spent 29 years in prison for taking part in a murder that her abusive husband committed at a Campbell liquor store while she sat in a car outside.

An aide to the governor notified Connie Keel of his decision in a letter faxed to the California Institution for Women in Corona (San Bernardino County). It did not state his reasoning.

Keel, 50, will be freed next week, said Adam Reich, a University of Southern California law student who represented her before the parole board and has collected thousands of signatures on support petitions through an Internet campaign.

“Both I and Connie’s family are ecstatic at the governor’s decision,” Reich said. He added that it “proves that in the end, justice will always prevail.”

UPDATE 4/1/09: Connie was released from prison today. She said:

I’ve waited a long time to hug my children, to hold them in my arms without prison guards around me. No one is there to tell me you’re hugging them too long. It makes me really, really happy.

According to the Oroville Mercury-Register, Connie will live in a half-way house for about six months.