(or Do Turtles Ever Get Homesick?)
I’ve just spent two weeks away from home. Some would call this a “vacation.” I don’t mean to sound flippant or ungrateful. Yes, we’ve been in England these last two weeks… but mostly visiting my in-laws and in the non-stop company of two young, jet-lagged children who don’t really understand where they are or why their bodies are so out of sync. It’s hardly been restful or restorative, as the word “vacation” usually implies.
What I’ve noticed most about this trip is my longing for home, a home-sickness of sorts, that I’ve never experienced before when we’ve traveled.
Perhaps it’s because it’s been more than two years since we’ve made the journey over the pond. Or maybe it has to do with being here, during the Brexit vote and subsequent fallout. I long for the perception and illusion of stability and safety back home, as opposed to the stark reality of instability and unknown that can’t be avoided on this island. England, or more generally the EU, was always our backup plan. If things get too politically unstable in the U.S., we always can head to Europe, or so we thought. Now I’m not so sure. I want my children to thrive in a global world, not be restricted to small-minded island thinking.
Maybe it comes from so many years of living in a country where I felt so many of the states were “off-limits.” Sure there are gay people living in all 50 states (shock! horror!), and many did so under repressive local governments, but that’s never what I wanted for myself or my family. I refused to live in such places and was lucky that I didn’t have to.
If I ruled the world, there would be no borders and boundaries. People would be free to move about our planet Earth as they pleased, to follow love or passion or calling as they wished, without the need for passports and visas and other fancy (and expensive) immigration papers.
It is not lost on me that I am a citizen of a first world country simply because I was lucky enough to be born here. I think anyone with the resourcefulness to get from there (wherever that is) to here (wherever that is) should be allowed to stay for as long as they like (provided basic conditions of global citizenry are met).
I recently inquired about a job posting from my company that was in the Philippines. The hiring manager seemed completely perplexed as to why I would want to leave the comforts and safety of my position in New York, for one in an emerging market (horrendous record on LGBT-rights notwithstanding). Oh, I don’t know. Adventure. Travel. Exploration. Change of scenery. Exposure to new culture and new ideas. To be a global citizen.
So what defines “home?” What am I really longing for?
Is it my birthplace? Or the place where I spent the majority of my childhood years? I’ve now lived in the same town, a commuter suburb outside of New York City, for 10 years. This is the longest that I’ve ever lived in one place in my entire life. Does this mean it is now my hometown? Is this now where I am from? Is this now home?
I grew up 1400 miles away from where I live now. My grandmother went to elementary school a mere 3.3 miles from my current house. I remember this feeling of relief sweep over me when I told her we were moving, and she then revealed this part of her past that I did not know. It made this monumental decision somehow suddenly feel “right” and justified, a sign from the universe, as if I, unknowingly, was simply following my heart home.
Or is it something else that I am still searching for? Perhaps my soul will not be able to rest until I find that place of true belonging and acceptance. Maybe it’s not here or there. Maybe it’s beyond. Maybe I’m really going to have to get out of my comfort zone to find peace. I’ve often wondered that, dreamed and fantasized of that. I just never know if it’s just a dream or something more.
A few months ago I stumbled upon a podcast called “Whistling in the Dark” by TV Exec Shannon Fitzgerald. Some of her episodes are just conversations with her therapist. In one such episode, she revealed that she came to therapy with this goal: “I want to get off the planet. I want to be complete. Whatever lesson I’m learning here I want to be done. Finish it up and I want to move on.” I can relate to those feelings.
One of the only places in my life that has ever felt like “home” was a summer camp in the middle of Tennessee. One of the directors used to give out M&M’s as homesickness pills, as if a handful of chocolate could satiate the feelings of being lost and insecure and lonely and unsettled.
During my first summer at camp, I was summoned to the director’s cabin to deal with a reported case of homesickness. My counselor, apparently, thought I was crying myself to sleep because I missed home so much. To this day I have no idea why she thought that I was the bereft camper; I can guarantee you that it most definitely was NOT me who was missing home. Not even at age 11. But I listened to the lecture and took my handful of M&M’s and went on my way.
Most of the times in my life when I have been homesick have involved good-byes: saying goodbye to old, dear friends; leaving places that I loved; and once upon a time, saying goodbye to my family after a satisfying visit. I remember one time when my family came to visit me my first year in college, over Easter weekend, and the tears welled up as they drove away, leaving me behind. I never cried when I was dropped at summer camp or boarding school or the start of college, but here at the end of my first year of college, I suddenly had a longing for home.
Then a few years later I went to drop off one of my sisters at college, and I was the one crying, asking my mother how she could just drive away, leaving my sister behind, getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. Up until that point, I had always been the one leaving. I had never had to drop someone off and drive away. Perhaps that’s why I got so teary-eyed on the first day of Kindergarten. I’m losing my little boy. I have to let him go.
Or maybe it was just dawning on me that I wasn’t really sure of who I was or my place in this world. Or I was just starting to grapple with accepting who I was and how that was going to change my place in this world and my idea of home. My sisters were devastated when my parents sold our childhood home. I on the other hand was relieved. It almost felt cathartic, to have a place where I had to hide and repress so much suddenly be gone from my life. Never again would I have to visit the place that brought on an anxiety attack as soon as I entered the front door. Never again would I have to sleep in a bedroom that instantly brought back nightmares and night terrors and shear, unrelenting, paralyzing fear.
Some people say “home is where you are” or “home is where you make it.” True. Perhaps I am just jealous of turtles and snails and crabs and all other animals who always have a home, right there on their backs. They never have to pack, or unpack. Wherever they are, when it’s time to rest, they are home.
Home is not where you are born; home is where all your attempts to escape cease. ~Naguib Mahfouz
You can take me down
To show me your home
Not the place where you live
But the place where you belong
~Toad the Wet Sprocket, “Something to Say”
It seems to me quite possible to own a house and yet still feel homeless. I think that’s really where I’m at. And it’s probably where I will be until I find a way to stop looking for an escape route, to find that place where I can be, at peace, with where I am at that moment. If that place even exists.