While my southern roots have always inspired me to believe in a strong sense of “hearthiness”, during my later years I’ve admittedly struggled with how to keep a foot in both the “cosmos” and the “hearth”. I love my home, no doubt about it, but my relationship with North Carolina has been tainted by various traumas and the downright sourly dangerous end of the political spectrum of which the state embraces, leading me to run from the ideal of hearth completely.
When I was in my early teens, my entire sense of home and hearth was swiftly abolished when I was illegally removed from my family home and placed into the foster care system– an event from which I’ve never truly recovered. While I had a very strong sense of place and home before, being a ward of the state stripped me of nearly all allegiances and pride that I had towards my home; as I was shamefully moved from place to place, essentially being given to the “most appropriate” bidder, it began to feel as if I belonged nowhere at all.
When one is subjected to losing their place so violently at such an early age, it not only affects their overall relation to a sense of place, but also their sense of self, as your “place” tends to make up a large part of your identity during childhood. While most children and teenagers aspire to live a cosmopolitan lifestyle (i.e. going to college, achieving big dreams, pursuing big careers), what often fuels this dream is their sense of hearth– some people want to escape the places they’ve been raised, while others aspire to live in a place that is similar, albeit better off, and the common denominator is the factor of being able to achieve a cosmopolitan sense of mind. However, a question that all to many people don’t seem to ask is, “what happens to foster kids?”
What people don’t realize is that, for a majority of foster kids, you have neither a sense of the hearth or the cosmos. The travel and adaptation that you’re forced to adjust to isn’t that of Tuan’s “cosmos”: there is no sense of enlightenment from this life. While you’re mobile, you’re not mobile of your own doing, and you’re often not transcending boundaries with your travel; rather, you’re mostly stuck in the same place for long periods of time just inhabiting different spaces. There is also nothing elite about the foster care experience– if you think that poor adults are on the lowest end of the capitalism food-chain, you’re willfully ignoring that of the poor and homeless child.
The reality of foster care is that there is often nowhere to go with the exception of embarking on a parallel path of poverty and rootlessness in your adult life. You’re given no resources to succeed, and unlike most other children and teenagers, there isn’t that sense of hearth to push you to aspire to a cosmopolitan mindset. Instead, you end up in a void, existing somewhere between the hearth and the cosmos.
I was one of the lucky and privileged ones– while I still (and will likely always) struggle with accepting my birth home, I spent enough time in a loving environment as a child that I was able to adapt and establish my own hearth later on in life while predominantly achieving the cosmopolitan ideal. However, this is not the case for most of my comrades in the struggle, and I believe that these are cases deserving of more attention.