As bombs fall in Libya, revolution catches a wildfire across the Middle East, the Earth trembles and cracks open in Japan and New Zealand, and flood waters in Australia immerse the land, one of many things on my mind has been all the homes destroyed in the wake of these monumental events. Some of those physical structures might have been in families for generations, maybe others were bought after years of saving, some rented but nonetheless containing priceless artifacts like family heirlooms, photographs, memories in the form of keepsakes that once swept away can never be revisited in physical form.
I don’t mention all the lost lives. I can’t bear the thought of the thousands dead. Smiles that will never be seen again, embraces gone, people that will never again be revisited in physical form.
As the world upheaves, so do things in my life: My husband and I were both made redundant at our jobs and so our plan to leave Prague in the summer of 2012 has been fast-forwarded a year and a half. I feel guilty at how upset I am by the unexpectedness of this move given the horrors going on around the world. But I also know that it’s not fair to myself to not feel the grief that comes with uprooting once again, the emotional devastation that accompanies each move and leaves me wishing that I had a place that was definitively home to where I could return and remain.
The closest childhood home I had was the house of one of my mom’s best friends in Milwaukee. We’d visit them in the summers and that place, with its weeping willow in the front yard and basketball net in the alley behind, was the one site in my life that never changed. I called Milwaukee my hometown, not only because that was where my mom and grandparents were from, but also because that was the one place in a world with the same home place I ever returned to.
A few years ago my mom told me that her friends had sold the house and moved away from Milwaukee. I actually cried at the loss, one that makes me tear up even now. Since then I’ve not called Milwaukee my hometown.
In the interim I’d come to think of my husband’s childhood home in Florida as my new landing point, until we found out that they too are selling it and moving further north.
There’s no place like home indeed.
I’ve had to adjust the idea of home, linking it with the people I love, my mother, my husband, my friends who are more like extended family.
“Home” is also linked with the physical things that root me in myself: The dozens of journals I’ve kept since I was 6 years old, the remnants of my great-grandmother’s carpet that she made on her handloom, vintage clothing belonging to my mother and grandmother, photographs and boxes filled with little keepsakes, movie tickets, boarding passes, brochures from places visited. Not very Buddhist or enlightened to rely so much on these material things to feel a sense of my rooted self, but it’s what I’ve got.
In a few months the movers will come and pack everything into cardboard that never looks strong enough to travel across the world. They will take everything away and as I’ve done a dozen times before, I will wait with my tummy in knots until the things that make up my sense of home arrive at my next destination.
I think about the people who have lost everything in these last few weeks and I feel their pain. Their uprooting was not their choice, and now they have to find a way to put together the pieces while grieving. How do they find the strength? How do they manage to move forward?
“Home” will always be an illusion in my life. It is the place I dream about, superimposing my desire for roots over any available and stable place. Realising this makes me feel like a ghost, floating above the land, wanting to be a part of it but unable, belonging nowhere, nowhere to go back to, nothing that ties me here other than the most ephemeral of ties so easily severed.
I am forced to conceive of myself as a lotus or tumbleweed, equipped with portable roots that come down when the forces of nature allow, even though I would much rather be the willow tree that surely still blooms in front of the old Brodd house in Milwaukee.
In a world where a Nobel Peace Prize laureate drops bombs on a nation, the ground splits open under our feet, the tides rush inland, jobs get yanked out from under us, how are you adjusting to changing realities of stability?