There’s No Place Like Home

The Brodd House in Milwaukee, Zuzu and Prague's Vysehrad in the background.

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?

4 Responses to There’s No Place Like Home

  1. Sezin. Isn’t it interesting that when you dreamt about being somewhere else, anywhere but dreary, dark Prague (the winter blues) thinking about a move might not have been out of the question. Or at least a nice thought for a few hours. But ‘forced’ to move is so much more unpleasant, obviously. The reminiscing begins.

    At this moment, I find my self in a similar quandary. My mum is selling her home, the house my children call ‘home’. We are all very upset , a bit confused: where do we go? But just a month ago, even two weeks ago, I would smugly comment to anyone that would listen to me about how- if I had an airplane ticket ‘out of here’ – I would take it and fly away.

    Certainly, it is a different situation when disaster strikes and takes away your possessions. There is a different type of trauma involved.
    For now, ours – the moving, uprooting, dreaming of a new place – or the ‘old’ place…is more part of being in a constant state of flux that has become, I think, the norm – not the exception. What do you think? S

    • Hi Silvana,

      I absolutely agree that a state of flux is now the norm, even though most of us would like the opposite. Nothing is permanent, this we know, yet still our minds, bodies and spirits seem to want that more than anything. I feel so sad for you that your mum is selling her/your home. I can only imagine what you are going through although I’m sure it’s nothing like how it actually feels. I wish you all the best as you try and figure out all the next steps for you and your children.

      About me and Prague…yes, indeed. I had actually sat down with myself and figured out a way to get through the next year without going crazy and now I needn’t have done that. There are a few things I will miss about being here, the main one being living in Europe and all the freedoms that come with it. I never took it for granted, and now I must start to mentally prepare for the realities of living in non-Western nations. I will not be able to dress the same, there will be no more Zuzu Kahlo costumed walks/photo shoots through the city, no more easy travel from one part of the city to another. Oh well. As you say, flux is the new stable.

      Love and strength,

      Sezin

  2. Hugs, Sezin. The same issues have been weighing heavily on my heart and mind for some time, too. I’ve landed in bad places more than once, but I guess it’s time to remind myself that I’ve landed well more than once, too. And I re-established myself well when I was focused on taking care of me, rather than worried about people back at home. This home I’m in now is temporary and uncomfortable, to say the least, and also lonely in deep ways. I know I have to go, but I also know that once I leave here there is a very high probability that I’ll never be back. Once the last person in my family that I’m really connected to is gone, I will feel orphaned. Utterly alone. And so, despite needing to leave for my own wellbeing, I stay, almost chained here by grief. But also the fear of an even more immense grief once I leave.

    So, thank you for the image of the lotus; I hadn’t know about their ability to set down roots when it’s safe. That’s helping me.

    It also helps to know that I’m not the only one who feels less rooted than they’d like to be. For many years, I traveled a lot, and enjoyed it. The “wandering adventuress” type. But now I’m ready to set down roots and build my own home, something that I control –within the bounds that are possible in our current world– and make it My Home, a place I love and that loves me back.

    I’m also glad for you that you have your husband, so that no matter where you land, you know someone loves you, not just in an ephemeral sort of way, but also in a very concrete I’m-right-here-with-you sort of way.

    Blessings,
    Heather

    • Hugs right back, Heather. It sounds like we are both really struggling with the same issues right now. I know what you mean by grief and knowing that when you leave you will likely never be back. There have been so many places I would like to return to, if even for just a visit, but somehow there are never the means for those kinds of luxuries.

      Is there a way to start processing grief that hasn’t exactly happened yet? I know you have lots of great spiritual tools, maybe you’ve got something in your kit that would help both of us.

      I wish you peace and strength as you figure out what to do and where to go. At some point I suppose we have to accept that our ideal idea of home is far from the reality, and we have to be okay with that.

      Love,

      Sezin

Thoughts?