Home is Where Safety Meets Empathy

by Marta Guerreiro – an autobiographical piece

With loose hands and bare feet, my home is my altar. I have always been like this, I want candles and incense, I want blankets and time to clean the house, if I am being honest, a lot more often than necessary. I like the world outside, but I like the world in here much more.

Being restricted to my altar did not bother me. I was clearly concerned with the world outside, but in no way frightened that my home was now an obligation. I always saw it as a universe, more than a prison.

A dog, two dogs, three dogs, my wife, one of my best friends, her twelve-year-old sister who moved to this altar in the middle of the lockdown and my fourteen-year-old sister, who lives with me and is almost a daughter. Our kitchen has a yellow wall, the living room doesn’t look so big with our massive TV, the sofa is not too small or too big, just the perfect size for our Netflix marathons. My home, our home, has this cool silence, the inherent feeling of acceptance, and it always smells like incense burning. Suddenly, the incense was insufficient, the candles burned faster, the noise came from all the compartments and, although it took me a while, I realized that home used to be a universe to me because there were so many moments that belonged only to me.

Being and existing, socializing and communicating, are things that I like to do… but moderately. I like “not doing” more than “doing.” The hands started to feel tense and the feet were dressed more often than bare. The television on, the obligation of lunches and dinners, the loud music, the bodies and the lack of space, sigh, I did not remember that there were so many of us. When did we become so many? As a joke I constantly said to them: have we all always lived here? I don’t remember there being this many people.

Lockdown had this particularity: all the people who live with me had adapted to a rhythm in the outside world and suffered greatly when they were stopped from doing it. As for me, I had already spent my days at home, so I wouldn’t have expected to go through a period of adaptation, but I did. My silence ceased to exist and now the house seemed a little less mine.

I have believed all my life that we are driven by the need and ability to adjust. I have believed all my life that we are moved by the balance between emotion and reason, and I knew, as soon as I realized that with Covid there was also a possible decline in my mental health, that I had to change, I had to change.

All my routines were rethought. Silent mornings did not exist, so I decided to wake up earlier, every day. A cigarette and a coffee. I ordered lounge chairs for the garden, and after a coffee and a cigarette, I lay down in the garden every day. As the hours passed, other inhabitants of the house gradually joined me. From my chair I could see faces that had not yet been washed saying good morning. My morning began even earlier, as it gave me time to exist independently, so, when the faces I love so much appeared, I already had strength, I already had time to fill myself with self-love, with joy taken from alone-time, and then prepare to divide myself into sounds and activities that had not been part of my routine until then.

Since the beginning of the pandemic I have maintained that Covid would drastically affect those who become infected and those without emotional help. The virus came to deliver us a true blow to the stomach. It would be very audacious to compare the non-poetic deaths that the virus brought with it with the ills that remain in those who do not die, in those who do not even catch the virus. Depressions, anxiety and paranoias. Nevertheless, I was worried about that. I still am. Perhaps because of my way of seeing the whole picture, I tried to focus on self-care as much as possible; otherwise, I would see years of work on my depression being interrupted.

After a month the noise became like a new home: the movement, the agitation and the new routines were already running in my blood and were already associated with this idea of ​​my house being an altar. After a month, I yearned for every face of these people I love. At the end of the month, mornings were full of the girls’ homework: math, science, art. The routine was multiple, and the rule remained, as always – whenever someone needs space alone, they could say. Personal space has to be respected. If one was tired of a school subject or had a different idea on how to teach it, we would say, or we would ask any other person to keep doing whatever we were doing. There were moments where I couldn’t handle any more religion studies, so I would ask my wife to take over. There were moments where learning about climate change through massive amount of text wasn’t fun anymore, so the girls would ask to watch a documentary instead. We went on like this, all of us, on the basis of respect and the joy of being well and healthy — that was the gift. That is the gift.

I never clung to a utopian idea that people would start to make the world a more beautiful place after all this. Emotional intelligence is not aroused that fast, even during a pandemic. I readjusted my routine, made a bed with self-love blankets and early mornings, but I was not protecting myself from the impact of what was happening outside my door. George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. So, we made posters but told the girls that they could not go due to the virus. But my sister said that if her place was not in the fight for Black Lives Matter then she did not understand everything I was teaching her. So, here too, we ended up going together. I left the altar, we took the posters, we put on masks, we held hands with the girls, and we went, and we shouted. It was one of the few times that we went beyond the portal that is the paradise of our home for a period of four months. We had to. Because of the pain, the injustice, and the need to add our voices.

I never clung to a utopian idea that people would start to make the world a more beautiful place. I managed to change my routines, I managed to love the noise that previously interrupted my desire to be alone, I managed to love a house so full every day, but I was not protected from the sadness of seeing a society collapsing due to health issues, accentuating what is already known: the pandemic is Covid’s fault but racism, inequality, the lack of health support for minorities and those in countries exploited by economic powers, are not Covid’s fault. They are people’s fault – not everyone, but many.

Having left home to go to the protests didn’t bring any joy; we weren’t happier because we had the chance to make some contact with the outside world. What I took from it was that in a moment of extreme importance to protect ourselves, we had to leave, we had to ignore “safety comes first,” so we could make a statement: it is not because we are inside that we will not go outside if needed. However, the home we were building based on mutual respect and the need to adjust and adapt to the other seemed far from a reflection of the world. This home was and still is ours, and we embrace the feeling of being protected without forgetting that we cannot protect ourselves if we are not willing to protect others.

Here at home, we go on our way, hand in hand and bare feet, ready to adjust to each other, but also ready to leave the warm altar when political dictatorship makes itself visible, when it emerges and is even more explicit than in a world where we are all the same, but some are more equal than others. I can let the incense stop burning, maybe there are not enough candles for a lockdown and yes, the noise wasn’t always welcomed, but I can proudly say that regardless of how many times I need to readjust myself, I will always do it for love, justice and equality. Holding hands with the ones I love, we turned our home into a castle, where wars weren’t welcome, but there was plenty of space to let empathy and safety grow.

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