Do you know what it is to be homesick for a place you haven’t left? I do.
Today as I rode the train to London, looking out the window, my throat tightened and eyes blurred. Again on the Tube. Tired, thirsty, hot and sick of the smell of people, I suddenly was struck with a longing that squeezed my chest.
I was playing a choral piece on my iPod from a Celtic CD. It happened to be the song I listened to on the bus as I entered the Highlands of Scotland. Some people say that books take you back to the places you’ve traveled. For me, it’s always been music.
I closed my eyes and I was in the Highlands. I saw the turn of the road, the opening of a view, like a movie, panning into sight. We were on the mountainside gazing down the way we’d come. The lake twisted below us, sheltered by the towering hills, going on and on till haze, mist and rain closed over it in the far distance. The world didn’t exist outside the land–outside of the view. Civilization did not exist. I regretted the bus, the tourists. I regretted that I was civilized. For that place deserved the wind and rain and heavens.
Then the bus rounded another bend, and I gazed on the long yellow grass of marshes. The water pooled in mirrors on the ground, perfectly, magically still. The mist came and went, cloaking the mountains in a wedding veil, in a mourning veil. Then the sky was blue, nearly cloudless, and I could see the mountains going up, up, up, till the tops were crowned with boulders and craigs. The hikers were mere specks.
The song changed. I opened my eyes and was back on the Tube, and I had to blink back tears.
Leaving a place you love is a little like dying. But it’s also a little like coming alive. The ironwork of Paddington is suddenly beautiful. The inconvenience of travel is suddenly an adventure. The land slipping, slipping past your window is like watching a beloved movie. You want to reach out and stop it, hit pause and rewind, but at the same time you don’t. You can’t. Part of the sweetness is in the losing.
I told a friend recently that you never really leave a place where you’ve lived. It’s true. The places I’ve lived have sculpted me. I don’t mean just the physical places–though that’s true–but the people, the food, the books, the sights, the music. I mean the veteran at the memorial, the run through a downpour of stinging rain, the vibration of floorboards with the stomping of Irishmen, the naan on a hard, hot day.
A part of you is always there, because that moment and place is an inseparable part of you.
This creates a certain amount of displacement. I feel that when people ask where I’m from. I don’t have a single place to name.
But it also creates a wider identity, a bigger home, a deeper love and appreciation of the world. A belonging.
Because I’m not just a child of Milton, or of Virginia, or even of the United States. I’m also of the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany and Ebony. I’ll never leave those places. They’ll never leave me.
I’ll arise and go and go and go.
You can look for me.
But I’m not coming back.