05 July, 2007


Yesterday in class we read a poem called "Dazwischen". It was written by a Turkish woman who is living in Germany and describes how difficult it is to be torn between two cultures and two worlds.

...Ich ändere mich
und bleibe doch gleich
und weiß nicht mehr,
wer ich bin.
Jeden Tag ist das Heimweh
aber die neue Heimat hält mich fest
Tag für Tag noch stärker...
("Dazwischen" by Alev Tekinay)

Suddenly I had tears in my eyes. I could completely empathize with the feeling of being neither here nor there. But in a way she is lucky: she could still identify with her homeland enough to miss it. At least she still has some palpable feeling of "Heimat".

Except for a couple of years in Michigan I've been living outside of the States for 15+ years, my entire adult life. I have moved around so often that I no longer feel especially connected to the places in which I live. There always comes a point when I feel "at home", but those ties are tenuous and houses and host countries are surprisingly interchangeable.

When people ask me where I'd like to "end up" I always just shrug my shoulders. I have no clue. Someplace sunny. Someplace with M. Someplace close to S and B, if possible. In this nomadic lifestyle I have chosen I belong everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

For a few years after I left college I used to hunker for the sights, smells and sounds of Gainesville. I missed my friends; I longed to lounge in the plaza square; I craved the greasy burritos we used to wolf down on the corner of 13th and University Avenue.

And, of course, when I finally went back I was painfully disappointed. My friends were gone, local pubs had changed hands and the campus had sprouted new landmarks. The very thing for which I had been so homesick had actually ceased to exist.

Of course there are good sides to a nomadic life as well. I've seen a lot, learned a lot, and have developed a level of compassion that I never would have thought was possible. Most days I can savor the richness of our international experience and appreciate my exposure to new horizons.

But yesterday I also briefly touched on the grief that comes with impermanence and the realization that roots which are severed never grow back as thick or as tenacious as they were in their original incarnation.

And as I was wallowing in this deep sense of loss and injustice I suddenly had an epiphany. Whether we are rooted to the spot or travelling to the ends of the earth, everyone has a sense of nostalgia for earlier times and places that exist only in memory and simply cannot be revisited.

Who doesn't feel a twinge when they remember dinners at Grandma's or the way the light filtered through the curtains in our bedrooms on warm summer evenings? We have all loved and lost and hold these memories close to our hearts. It is one of the many ties that binds us. And one of the things that reminds me that I do belong. Maybe not wholeheartedly to my country, but to humanity. to my generation. to my family and the small microcosm in which I am lucky enough to live...


Carol said...

Beautiful post! You described how you feel so beautifully!


Astrid said...

I ecco what Carol said :)
Because now I've tried for 15 minutes to leave you a comment that would actually make sense but I've kept on deleting. This post went straight to my heart.

Suburban Turmoil said...

This was really nice. You're a wonderful writer. :)

Heza said...

Hopefully after 15 years outside of my home country, I'll be able to describe the betweenness I feel so eloquent as you. I'm still trying figure out what it means to me of everything I've gained/lost by moving to a foreign country.

Runaway Rubber Duckie said...

Yes, and the memories you are creating for the kids will have the same feeling to them when they look back years from now.. There are always new memories to be made.

Africakid said...

Funny, before I read this post, I'd taken the book, "Unrooted Childhoods," down from my shelf and browsed through it, trying to understand why I'm so reluctant to review it on my blog. Maybe because many of the (true) stories touch on that feeling you describe of "being neither here nor there," with both the grief and richness such a life includes.

I'll eventually blog more about growing up as a TCK/third culture kid. It's interesting to hear your perspective, Betsy, as someone who's lived overseas for so long. Now you're raising your own TCKs!

------------------------ said...

Really good post, Betsy. I miss periods in time more than physical locations, and we all know we can't go back there again. I think I spend a lot of my subconscious energy figuring out how to go back again, which is quite sad. Life is relentless in the way it forces you to keep moving forward, as if nothing that occurred before really matters. It's fine if you're the move forward type, but if you're the memories type then it's extra work. - cw

Erwin said...

Spot-on indeed. Question: are we increasingly trading a geographical homeland for roots in the virtual world? I mean, these kind of observations and discussions we used to share with good friends over a drink in our favorite watering holes, in the town where we went to high school, college or uni. Nowadays we seem to do this in online communities. Could it be then, Betsy, that this blog is becoming your home away from home?

Betsy said...

Good point, Erwin! Listen, if that means I can sit down and have a virtual beer with you, cw and ch I'm all for it!!! :-)

Erwin said...

Any time. But a real ber still tastes better.

christina said...

This is great and I love the comments too. As someone who *still* has really strong roots although I've been away for so long, I sometimes forget about the people who have basically been on the go for most of their lives. Hard to tell which side is more difficult. I lived in one place for the first 27 years of my life and that will always be "home" to me no matter where I am. But that's just me. :-)