We usually only see the good experiences on social media. We post when we feel particularly successful, pretty, cool, or downright vain. (I've been there. I am a part of the selfie generation.) What we don't often post about are those extremely human moments of grief and loss. I understand why. It's hard--and dangerous--to be vulnerable, especially online. We each have to decide what we are comfortable sharing with the world.
But this is my small attempt to reach out to those who might feel discouraged when they look at their friends' "perfect lives" on Facebook. No vacation is perfect. Neither is any relationship. And part of living means losing. Losing people, places, keys, memories. But I do think that, as Mary Oliver wrote, that "salvation" is on that other side of the "black river of loss." What that exactly means I am still trying to figure out for myself. But working through those questions is certainly a start of learning how to live.
"Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! [. . .]
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn [. . .]" --John Keats, "Ode to a Nightingale"
They say it takes your soul six weeks to catch up with you after a move.
Any transition, really.
It takes time to find your place again.
Because even as your body is in a new corner of the world, your heart is somewhere else.
I am finding this to be true. Now, don't get me wrong. I love Oxford and I feel this is where I need to be for the next year. I love the buildings I get to pass on the way to class. I love the people I am meeting from my college, my program, and beyond. I love hearing British accents on the streets. I love afternoon tea and scones. I love studying in the Bodleian Library. I love having my own schedule and creating my own career. I love forging my own path. I love it here. And my love will only grow.
But there are other people and places I love, too. And I miss them. I am unashamed to say that I miss people and places of home. Because those people and places create my home.
What is home? That can be a sensitive topic. Some people easily say it is with their families, but for others, family matters are toxic. For some, being with family is not being at home. And I think it is important to remember that a house does not make a home.
As I have gotten older, I have come to realize that home is more of a feeling than a concrete place. But at the same time, I think we all have to have a "safe space" to come home to. And that usually means a place with people who care about us. I am fortunate enough to have a loving family nestled at the base of the Wasatch Mountains whom I can always turn to. I have a home.
Then again, I have several homes. "Home" is more fluid than it was to me as a sixteen-year-old. Home is associated with people and places, feelings and memories. It is a place where I feel loved. It is where I feel confident, silly, pretty, happy, and where I feel safe enough and brave enough to be vulnerable--to be open, to be scared, to be angry.
Home is a place and time where I am surrounded by people who love me for me.
And with that definition of home, it is easy to see why I--or anyone--can get homesick for people and places around the world. Especially when you are separated from those people or places. Of course there are moments when I miss the familiarity of sitting around the kitchen table with my family, but there are also times when I ache for my small kitchen in Provo, Utah, cutting apples and chatting with my roommates. Or times when my soul soars back to an autumnal street in eastern Ukraine, or returns for a moment to a bridge over the River Cam, or peeks into my grandmother's bay window.
Memories of love leave imprints on our souls. And our souls never forget moments when they were truly safe; when they were truly, completely loved.
For that reason, it can be hard to be somewhere new, even when the colors around us are vibrant, and the conversations stimulating, and the future exciting and strange.
It is that strangeness which both tantalizes and terrifies us.
And in those moments where the tumult and excitement die down and we are left with just ourselves surrounded by walls pale with loneliness, homesickness can be suffocating. We are separated from those who care, or from those we care for, and we miss them. We miss them a lot.
It is hard to lose familiarity, even though we cry for independence. Don't get me wrong. We need that independence to learn about ourselves and to find what we are made of. It is essential that we live, learn, and experience life on our own. And doing so helps us realize what kind of future home we want to create for ourselves and those we love.
Also, I don't think that homesickness is necessarily bad. Like Keats's immortal nightingale, those pangs of loss are reminders of the love that once was and that still is and will be again. Those gentle, melancholy melodies can make us weep. But I think those yearnings for home--whether for a place round the fireside with family, a cafe with friends, a trail in the Rocky Mountains, or a future destination we are still searching for--give us direction. They give us hope in the possibility of peace and rest.
They poignantly remind us of our human need for connection.
Building a home takes time. It takes patience. And it takes love. Not only from those around you, but from yourself. You have to let people know that you care in order to create a haven. To create a home.
So to all those who are missing someone, something, somewhere, some state of being--know that you are not alone in your absence. And that nothing can remain empty forever. Fill that absence with beauty. And if that beauty makes you weep, just know that the color of grief is just as necessary as the color of joy in this canvas of life.
Song of the Day: "To Build a Home," The Cinematic Orchestra