I have been thinking recently about home. Not home as a specific place, but something less tangible.What does it mean, why is it important as a concept and why is it so powerful? I have prided myself on my ‘gypsy soul’. I have told and retold the story of my ten year old self begging my father to apply for an overseas post. Eventually it became THE story of my life. We share our lives by the stories we tell, but maybe those stories also shape who we become. As a teenager all I understood about my future was that I wanted to travel. It was the only story I knew how to tell.
So I did. Luckily I married a man with itchy feet too and we doubled our urge to leave places and move on. “We travel light” I said in the early years, when we did not have many possessions. “I love having a good clear-out, it’s better than shopping”, I confessed as we honed our packing skills. “I don’t get attached to houses, I always feel at home” I said to friends who looked sick at the prospect of yet another move. Having babies did not slow us down, it is easy to pack them up and relocate them and waiting at the school gate is a great way to meet new people and make friends. And so in 28 years of marriage we have lived in 18 houses; in 12 towns; in 4 countries; on 2 continents; in 2 hemispheres. I have made a lot of curtains, dug many gardens, redesigned several kitchens and painted lots of walls. We have explored wonderful places in Europe and let South America get under our skin in a way that we shall never recover from and probably do not want to. Our children have passed through half a dozen schools. They learnt what it feels like to be a foreigner, and to operate in a second or third language. The experiences have been rich, painful, exciting, frustrating, colourful, satisfying and scary; but never boring.
But something happened during our last upheaval. I made a surprising discovery. Selling up, packing up and flying away was a brutal experience. It felt physical, like a violation, as if my insides were being torn out and then laid bare for all to pick through. And so I have started to re-examine those stories that I live by.
“I make friends very easily”, I have always said, “and we can keep in touch”. Yes, but you cannot keep up with everyone. When you move out of their lives people have to let you go. In our headlong rush to pastures new I think I have been a little cavalier and careless about friends, I always leave them behind.
“Moving and packing makes you realise how little you really need to take with you”, has been my mantra for years, “it’s only stuff”. But there has to be somewhere to store the precious early artwork and handmade cards. I do not what to get rid of the photos or the Duplo or the familiar bedtime story books and how many more times do I want to collect all those useful things that build up in the kitchen cupboards and drawers but which are not essential kit?
“If this job/house/town is not right we can just move”, we have reassured each other frequently, but I would love to see the bulbs and shrubs and trees that we plant grow to maturity. Dare I suggest that perhaps the big challenge for people like us would be to stay?
It feels a little like heresy, but I think I am beginning to discover that what I want now is to belong somewhere. Finally, perhaps, I need to feel rooted. It would be nice to be part of a landscape, part of the storybox of a place. There is value in belonging; in day to day interaction with people who have shared good and bad times with you; in not being the new girl. The urge to leave is a powerful one and to be on a journey is exciting. But it can become a habit. It is not a habit I want to kick but I think it would be nice to go … and then to come home again. Perhaps this is the new story that I can start to tell and live by?