Welcome to Day 29 of 31 Days of A Sense of Place.
“We are torn between nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known.” -― Carson McCullers
I have rarely felt homesick for a former home, or for my current home when I am away from it for an extended period. But I know this homesick feeling that McCullers expresses, a yearning for a place I haven’t been but which seems to offer exactly what I seek, what I’ve lost, what I’ve never had, what I dream of and desire — all these contradictory things at once.
McCullers captures well a twin, perhaps paradoxical, yearning: nostalgia for the familiar, and its promise of belonging, knowing, feeling comfortable, being known; and an urge for the unfamiliar, with its offer of not knowing, discovery, surprise, reinvention.
My “place” yearning is often for exotica — a climate, terrain, culture, pace of life, natural setting that I’ve never experienced before. Just the words … Madagascar, Kathmandu, Polynesia, Luxor, Serengeti, Lapland, Galicia, Bali, Santorini, Galapagos, Marrakech, Morocco, Ladakh, Vanuatu, Seychelles, Svalbard, Havana … heck, Key West! … give me anticipatory shivers.
I have also felt homesick for places in books and movies: the little cottage that Mandy finds in the woods, in Julie (Andrews) Edwards’ Mandy; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg; the moderne Art Deco Whitehaven Mansions apartment in London (really Florin Court in Charterhouse Square, Clerkenwell, London), where Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot lives; the town and countryside of Ballykissangel in Northern Ireland (TV series); Three Pines, a fictional town in Quebec in the Inspector Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny; the fictional Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital in New Jersey in the TV show House.
Other times, my yearning is not so much for a magical, breathtaking geographical place, or a cozy, friendly spot, as for a metaphorical home, a place where I belong. Rebecca Solnit, in Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics, says it well:
“The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.”
To be perfectly understood. To be held in the center, by love.
I have at times, for a few hours at a time, felt perfectly understood, though rarely in my nominal home. I am always ready to feel it again:
“It could be a meeting on the street, or a party or a lecture, or just a simple, banal introduction, then suddenly there is a flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow. There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing.” ― John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Stephen King (in The Body) says that
“Homesickness is not always a vague, nostalgic, almost beautiful emotion, although that is somehow the way we always seem to picture it in our mind. It can be a terribly keen blade, not just a sickness in metaphor but in fact as well. … Homesickness is a real sickness—the ache of the uprooted plant.”
This is the kind of homesickness I don’t have. But I can imagine someone might, if they spent many years in a place and had to move away. Refugees, for instance. Voles, rabbits, mice, and thousands of insects when hay is cut or land is tilled. Barred owls displaced by the cutting of trees near power lines — trees where they made their homes.
What we learn, instead, is that our adventures secure us in our isolation. Experience revokes our licence to return to simpler times. Sooner or later, there’s no place remotely like home.” — Gregory Maguire, in Out of Oz
I really have no concept of home from childhood. We had houses, and I had a family, and we lived in neighbourhoods, and everything was more or less fine, but I’ve never wanted to return to the houses, the family, the neighbourhoods, the towns where I grew up, except, occasionally, in the broadest sense, a return to The South. I like grits, southern accents, warm weather, blue crabs, NASCAR.
“I used to think it was mere homesickness, then I started getting it at home.” ― John Lennon
I can’t find the source for these widely quoted words of John Lennon, but I understand this homesickness that feels like wanderlust, itching to return to a place you haven’t been, echoing McCullers, and an impulse to keep on wandering, as if that in itself is a homecoming. Or, as Thích Nhat Hanh puts it, “Your true home is in the here and the now.”
So, instead of “Stay On Trail Or Stay Home,” perhaps it’s more like “Stay on Trail and Be Home.” That is, the journey is our home. Our place is placelessness, and we can rest there, explore there, belong there.
“There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there are a thousand ways to go home again.” – Rumi
Thanks for checking in. Be sure to see what the other 31 Dayers are writing about.
This project is a bit like Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking At A Blackbird, in that I’m writing about a sense of place from vantage points that may not obviously connect with each other. I’m not going to attempt to tie them together. In the end, these 31 days of looking at a sense of place may overlap, contradict, form a whole, or collapse like a flan in a cupboard, as Eddie Izzard would say. That remains to be seen. Thanks for stopping by.