The common cliché of home or homeland claims that its essence resonates not in the physical place, but in the people, the culture, and the histories. However, I believe it is possible for the physical place to hold just as much significance as the other elements, if not more. I have found that there is a certain comfort in the colors of the walls of my home; of my bedroom, my kitchen. I have found solitude in the hearty scents, and commotions that are trapped within the walls; I have found security knowing there is a roof over my head, and a place to rest my head at night to sleep. The walls of my home, for me, epitomize the value of the wharenui for Toko’s family as well as for the extended family of villagers. They are both a place of refuge, a place of solace, and a place to share stories that encapsulate a history; a united being.
But what happens when these walls simply do not exist? Better yet, what happens when these walls crumble, or drift away like dust? Unfortunately for many living in Baltimore this physical sense of home is translucent, feeble, or nonexistent. While the people, the culture, the histories and the stories marinate the streets, many are left with no roves, no comfort, no real sense of being. Teaching at Franklin Middle School I have had the privilege of hearing and listening to stories told of the students’ homes, of their physical walls, of their sounds, their noises their smells. I have also heard the story of one girl, Kyra, whose family was finally off of the streets, only to have their apartment burn down one week later.
As Kyra discussed the fire that crumbled the walls of her home, I could see the bitter tension rising in her words, the sound of helplessness, and the fury that settled in the heart of a once hope-filled girl. Like Toko, there was a fire rising inside of Kyra too, burning and changing her perceptions of life, “because fire does always cause to change whatever it feeds upon” (135). In this respect, for both Toko and Kyra the fire feeds upon their home, and in feeding upon their home, the fire in fact feeds upon them; upon their being. Therefore, in “taking the people’s place of resting, their place of learning, of discussing, singing, dancing, sorrow, joy, renewal” (136) the fire simultaneously steels these from the actual people. In this sense the fire had literally robbed Kyra of each of these elements personally: she no longer rests, learns, sings, dances, or finds joy in her being simply because she had no home, and what could have been her home is now dust.
The fire is then clearly defined as destroyer, and an exemplary catalyst of change. Yet, Patricia Grace make a point within her destructive imagery to reveal the redemptive spark within the flames: she states, “Fire causes to change what it touches, and yet it was, in the beginning, gift-given” (137). This is to say that fire disrupts what was, it instigates a change, yet this change is not necessarily destined to be “bad.” When the walls crumble, we begin to take refuge in people. We begin to build our home, our sense of belonging through a means that extents beyond the physical and enters the cliché of home previously established. Therefore, Kyra in entering school and mingling within the dynamic of me and her classmates has found a new home, a new sense of being established mainly through stories. Like Toko it was evident that she felt “it was good to have new skills and new ideas, and to listen to all the new stories told by all the people who came. It was good to have other to tell our own stories to, and to have them share our land and our lives. Good had followed what was not good, on the circle of our days” 145).