A moving experience

AS I made the decision to move, I was reminded of the adage about "the four worst things" - unemployment, divorce, moving, and death. I thought grimly that I was three for four, having only recently found employment after my divorce and now staring down the challenge of relocating my family to a more affordable place closer to my new job.

I let myself add the fourth "worst thing" to the list, because we live in New York, and death has been a prime subject of our city's rhetoric since last September. But only briefly.

I didn't want to fill my mind with images of death and destruction, just as I didn't want to occupy mental space with a negative proverb. We had to move, and I had to relinquish the adage's grip.

We had lived through the divorce, I had found a wonderful job, and the prospect of finding a new home with my daughters was exciting.

Now I faced doubt in my daughters, other family members, and friends. The girls initially felt I was taking them further from their father. Literally, that would be the case, by about eight miles. But I told them their father would be as welcome in our new home as he is in our current one, and that they'd be spending more time on weekends with him because of both the logistics of the travel and our decisions about how to make the transition for them smoother.

I talked to them about "home," and what they thought it meant. "It's where we all are," my younger daughter said. "So then there's nothing to be afraid of," I told her.

The adults in my life took a different, more factual sort of convincing. "How will you manage?" asked my mother, who has not budged from the home where I grew up. I referred to the last time we moved, although it had involved the children's father.

"Where will you go?" neighbors asked with strain. I mentioned a neighborhood close to the school where I work.

"Rents are impossible," a colleague warned. I told her I'd heard they were dropping.

"Realtors are a notch above drug dealers," my supervisor offered, as protection. I told him about the lovely family of realtors who have been helping me on the selling end, whose children attend my children's school, and who are friends of friends.

I was grateful for the concern, but I had to dismiss the fearful elements of the advice just as I had to let that adage fall by the wayside.

I thought of people who have no choice about moving, who are forced out of their homes by events like 9/11, by eviction or fire or earthquake. In this light, our move is not just an opportunity, but also a luxury.

These discussions emphasized for me both the importance of making our literal home comfortable and fit for the purposes of shelter and peaceful coexistence and the need to understand it as transitory, second to a higher sense of home.

An assignment I just gave in ninth- grade English reflected this interest: I had asked the students to consider Pip's "search for home" in the novel "Great Expectations."

I was amazed by their responses. Virtually all of them arrived at the conclusion that Pip's ideal home is not a literal place but a mental one, occupied by conviction and his particularly hopeful spirit. That they understood that home, for Pip, is where he feels at peace, where he rests and fear dissipates and he understands the love of others, inspired me in my own consideration of home. If they are 14 and already thinking like this, I marveled, they are well equipped for the challenges of life.

THIS Easter will be particularly poignant for my family. We will celebrate, in the shadows of so many instances of loss of life and home in our world, a renewal of ideas about home.

We will strive to make our minds the "occupied territory" of spirit and love. I will substitute "the four worst things" with those two best.

• Elizabeth Richards is a high school English teacher and novelist. Her latest book is 'Rescue' (Simon & Schuster, 1999).

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