Home, sweet home. Home on the range. You can't go home again. Home is where we start from. Secure the homeland. Home is where the heart is. And E.T., with his light-bulb finger, "Phone Home," brings tears to our eyes. Even in our national pastime, the goal all players strive for is, yes, home.

What does it mean, this soft and humming four-letter word?

The on-going discussion in Westport about building a senior housing complex on the Baron's South property triggers the question: What is home and why does it matter so much?

We are all alive now because our first home was good enough. It kept us warm, fed, smiled at and cared for sufficiently for us to survive. Home resonates for us because it is a symbol of connection, our first connection. And even when it failed for some as a place of safety, it still resonates in the heart as a place (in reality or hope) where we can let our guard down, love, express ourselves and refuel.

Home grows along with us, expanding outward to include our hometown, where our connections become greater. People know us. We smile at familiar faces. The nooks and crannies, side streets and shops become familiar, and out of familiar, comfortable. We belong here, too. We are nourished and sustained by this. Memories are made. On this bigger stage, our personalities form in more complexity. Like the home where we started from, our hometown begins to shape us. We even begin to love it, and in so doing, take ownership. We assume responsibility for some aspects of it.

A symbiotic relationship grows between us and our town. Like our home, our hometown is a reflection of us, and we are a reflection of it. Do towns take on personalities? If so, they are very multifaceted, as are we. Perhaps you could say we are parents of our town, helping to shape, direct and encourage it to be its best. Likewise, our hometown, at its best, helps us to be our best.

The more we live, the larger our home becomes. Each time we expand our boundaries of experience, our sense of home becomes bigger. As we venture away from the known to the new, from the smaller to the larger arena, we look back on the source we came from. Off to college, California or the Marines, we realize how much that which we left had become home and how loving our memories of it are. If you are living overseas, meeting up with an American has a much more heartfelt meaning than meeting up with an American in New York City. The farther we go, the more pockets of nostalgia we have in our hearts for all our different aspects of home, of all the places we have been connected to.

An awesome thing happened on Nov. 10, 1967. We saw, for the first time, our biggest home -- Planet Earth. Round, blue, green and white, vibrant, beautiful and finite. We got it -- a global consciousness. Now we know just how large and how small our home is. We also know just how symbiotic our relationship is with Earth. We take care of each other, Earth and us.

Like a symphony, in life, themes are repeated. We start small and grow to large, expanding and contributing along the way. Eventually, our bodies and minds tell us to slow down, pull in a bit, go slower. If we are lucky, we find ourselves laughing more, playing (puttering), napping, looking at the world with wonder -- just like we did when we started. And home, too, begins to grow smaller and, probably, sweeter.

Hillary Clinton reminded us a few years ago that it takes a village to raise a child. We all understood that to mean that people who are connected have a vested interest in the well-being of others in their community. That's when a town becomes a village. Only villages make sure there is a true place for everyone.

What those who are debating and questioning the ins and outs of this project are doing, of course, is what villagers do -- taking responsibility for their village, their hometown, their home.

Carol Swenson is a counseling psychologist with a practice in Westport, and her "Shifting Gears" appears monthly. She may be reached at shiftinggears.swenson@gmail.com.