The snail does not travel without its shell

The snail does not travel without its shell
Working with Dialogue Books, we asked five authors to write a personal response to Shelter’s core belief that Home Is Everything. Each week, we’ll be sharing one of these responses on our blog; exploring the history, the impact and the importance of home.

By Buki Papillon

A snail does not travel without its shell, so goes the Yoruba proverb, meaning every person should always have a safe home within which they can be their whole, best self. Which of us has not walked towards a familiar door, time after countless time and as our shoulders eased, and our breaths calmed, and our lips curved into an unconscious smile, our hands reached out with a familiar key. We touched a well-known door handle, then we put one foot in front of the other and entered  into that safe haven, our home! At the door, with relief; we shed coat, shoes, hat, along with a myriad invisible things that had attached themselves to our being during our encounter with the big, often uncaring world of the outside, the world of the not-home. Perhaps a familiar voice calls out gladdening our hearts with its beloved cadences, and ours sings back in reply. We plunge into the smells, the comfort, the welcome home. Home. Like a warm bath on a cold day. Our very bones ease within our bodies.  

Doesn’t that all feel so good? Now picture it differently. 

As our footsteps approach, our shoulders tense up, our jaws clench, our body systems start rounding up all our internal weapons, preparing for a fight. We wind tighter and into our selves hardening up, battening down. Swallowing down the terror that rises again and again in our throats.  Because home, which should enfold us in the presence of the people who care for us the most and love us the best, can also be the place where those very same people visit upon us the cruelties that seep up from the poisoned wells of their own human failings and miseries. The result being that we are not sure, even as we approach our own front door, the door of that place called home, whether we will be subject to hugs or slaps, literal or metaphorical, physical or emotional. Often, it is the not being sure that makes it most damaging. It is the mixture of love or should-be-love with violence, that hurts the most. The caress that slowly turns into a pincer hold, so that even as the touch starts, your body is fighting to sense if this will be a good one or a bad one. The unexpected that is nevertheless expected. The fight of mind and body to make sense of what is what. Even so, the gearing up for eventual, maybe forever flight, because home is no longer a safe place, the ultimate departure from the familiar however harmful, is never an easy thing. The outside world is big and cruel and often cares nothing. And if you end up out there on the fringes, fighting for survival without the shelter of four walls, the outside world is particularly expert at averting its collective eyes. At telling itself the story that somehow, that person without a home to go to has done something to cause or deserve this state of being. That it is okay to move swiftly on. And truly, who can take on the world’s entire problems without dying of overload?  

And yet, is it not possible to take on one tiny thing at a time? I have once watched on an idle sunlit day, an ant, as it patiently took on what to me was a crumb, so small barely would I be able to pinch it between thumb and forefinger, and yet how that ant struggled. It slid its whole body under that crumb. It staggered a few steps and collapsed. It tried pushing that crumb ahead of itself, but the crumb would slide sideways, or get stuck on some bigger obstacle. And at last the ant, after seeming to pause and rest and regroup for a long moment, took a minute bite of the crumb and, bearing this aloft, went off to wherever it lived. To its home. Soon enough, another ant appeared and took another bite, and another and another until the crumb was gone, but a community of ants had, together, taken it upon themselves to share the burden of carrying that crumb back to their home, there to nourish the community. This is how we can all do something. Even if it is a fraction of a crumb at a time. 

We each can be like those ants by lifting the small portion that our one singular self can bear, and so help the community get the entire crumb home. We can help be a home to others and help others find home in all sorts of ways. We can give our time, our ear, our expertise. Is there a teen struggling? Do they need to learn interview skills so they can apply for that first job that will help them out of a situation caused by a home that is no longer a safe harbor? Do they need a place just to be? A library? An after school haven? Home can be so many places. Above all, home needs to be a place at the thought of which, the heart does not scrunch down in terror. Home and terror should not exist in the same sentence. Home and safety should. No one should be without a safe and decent and livable home. 

For the main character in my book, An Ordinary Wonder, about a Nigerian twin longing for a place to call home where she could be her whole self, home was the library sometimes, and sometimes in the loving embrace of her twin sister. Then home became boarding school, because the home where the people that were supposed to love her most lived had become a place where dangers lurked. A place where her little shoulders tensed and hitched up and her thoughts could only turn to escape. Home would eventually become somewhere else for her, because of one kind person who understood the importance of home and safety, and who did not hesitate to carry that fraction of a crumb, to do that one little thing that would mean everything. 

Home in all its meanings, is crucial and vital. Home should be a sheltering abode where we can feel at ease and close our eyes for well deserved and necessary rest. Rest of the body and the mind and the spirit. Home should never be a place we are afraid to go to, a place that makes us mentally or even physically put up our fists in preparation for a fight, or constantly ready ourselves for escape. Home should be joy. Home should be peace. Home should be belonging. Home should be safe. Have a look around. How today can you provide a portion of home, a portion of safety? You do not have to carry the whole crumb. You sometimes just have to take a tiny portion and then show the way. One incredible way that, as a reader and book lover, you can do that, is through The Shelter Book Club, a community for readers and supporters. What a brilliant idea! Have a look right here! That way, each time your regular book club link arrives, and you reach forward to click it open and join your online community, you can also imagine someone somewhere reaching towards a door. As they do so, their shoulders ease, and their breath calms, and their lips curve into an unconscious smile as their hand reaches out with a familiar key. They touch a well-known door handle, and put one foot in front of the other as they enter into that safe haven, their home! And you helped make it happen! 

 Find out how you can join the fight for home, or read more from our Home is Everything series.