Show Me the Way to Go Home

WofOWhen I traveled back to Denmark in November after my grandmother’s funeral, I was carrying some extra weight with me. A little extra cushioning below the belt (I had been doing so well, too…), a suitcase full of brown paper craft bags (don’t ask), a few new books and a tiny seed of longing to move home tucked in a side pocket.

Funerals are emotional affairs under any circumstance. I’m sure that heightened sense of emotion played a part in returning home to Copenhagen with a mild fever of homesickness. Yet standing there, a giantess among my very short Italian family, I felt like I was back among my people. Even if I did have to bend at the knees to greet most of them. The loudness, the chewing with the mouth open, the jokes bordering on inappropriate–all of that is as familiar to me as the freckles on my face. It felt normal to me. It felt comforting. It felt like home.

There is a strange sense of weightlessness when you come home after being home. For a few hours or a few days, you are caught between the here and now, the now and then, the then and there. It’s like emotional jet-lag, when there are bits and pieces of your heart in two places at once.

Normally, by the time you unpack, by the time you get the seventy-two loads of laundry underway, and after a good night’s sleep in your own bed, you can shake off the feeling of having your head in one time zone and your heart in another. Maybe it was the physical reminders I chose to take, a few sentimental items of my Nana’s. Maybe it was the photographs I took with me. Hell, maybe it was the craft bags. But this time there was a palpable, identifiable yearning waiting for me in between the clothes and the books and the toiletries as I unpacked.

It’s the first time in a long time I’ve felt a pull to go home. We are happy here in Denmark. Sure, we know it’s not a forever home. We know that as the calendar months turn over into years, we’re getting to a point on our timeline when we have to start making plans for the future. So in a way, it was nice to feel that small embryo of “I’m ready to go back home.” And yet..

And yet…I fear I don’t know the way home. What was supposed to be a three stint out of the U.S. is now going into its seventh. The longer we are away, the further the idea of ‘home’ slips from my grasp until I am sometimes afraid I won’t be able to find my way back.


A lot has changed. Politically, socially, economically. Neighborhoods have changed so that I don’t recognize them. The slang is different, favorite restaurants have closed, there are suddenly ubiquitous chains restaurants that didn’t exist when we left. Friends have dispersed, have moved on. Kids have grown up. There have been seismic cultural shifts. But more than anything else, I have changed.

I worry. I worry about fitting in at home, something I’ve never even given a thought to in the past. I worry about being ‘other’ in a place where I should be firmly planted in the ‘us’ camp. I worry that I’ve missed out on cult television shows. I worry I won’t get the references, get the jokes. I worry that I will laugh when people complain about the cost of things because hell, a hamburger costs $20 dollars here. I worry that my kids will have missed out on those sticky early years when friendships are cemented in place.

I worry that moving back to what I’ve always viewed as home is going to be just as much of a shock to the system as moving abroad was, yet without the support network. No one thinks you need a support network when you’re moving where everybody knows your name. I have a sneaking suspicion that’s when you need it the most.

Yet within the uncertainty is also the promise of roots, the promise of the familiar, the promise of a little bit more breathing room. It is the promise of returning from a stupendously, fabulously, every-second-instagram-worthy adventure and falling into your own bed for the first time in ages. The one that is molded to your shape, the one that is not too hard or too soft but is just right. There is a gravitational pull toward the familiar that I think many of us carry with us, a deep-rooted longing to be home.

I would guess that many of  us are also afraid we’ve forgotten how to go back there.

32767884215629736566_610wFor now, we have no immediate plans to sort and pack and call up the shipping company. But the time is coming, I can see it out there on the horizon. Whether or not it’s this move or the next, eventually we will return to what I’ve always, in the back of my mind, considered home. I fervently hope that my short, Italian tribe will still be in abundance and that my exceedingly tall husband and soon to be exceedingly tall children will have the opportunity to bend at the knees to hug them. I hope that when the time comes, I have someone to help show me the way back.

Most of all I hope that when we return, we will feel that our time away has not been too long or too short, but like that bowl full of porridge, just right.



22 thoughts on “Show Me the Way to Go Home

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  1. When friends move away from Charleston, they always greet me with longings like yours. “Oh, I want to move back there. It will always be home.”

    And I tell them this: You can always come back. Just expect it to be a new adventure, not a rehashing of the place of memory. People change. Urban landscapes evolve. Cultures divide like cells in a petri dish.

    But you’re resilient. You know these things. You’ll be fine.

    I think we all look back and long for specific times and places, those moments of supreme happiness, the highs of Life. Wherever you are, you’re making more of those moments, things you’ll carry in your heart wherever you are.


  2. Everything you say is true, Andra. And it all makes sense. In my head. We talk a lot about not trying to recreate our past experiences. My own relationship with NYC is so twisted and entwined with my ideas of myself that I think I might just curl up in a middle aged ball and die if I moved back there and tried to recreate my life there. The kicker? As soon as we leave here we’ll long for the things we miss about Denmark.


  3. There’s always a yearning for “there” when you’re “here.” Our transition after 5 years living in Switzerland took a nano-second, and I found that sad at the time, but I’m grateful now. Was everything the same as we’d left it? Not even close, but it all worked out. It will for you too, whenever you do it.

    Something funny happened to m e a couple months ago along this line. I had always fantasized about moving back to where I grew up in CT. It’s beautiful, full of really interesting, educated people. On the water. Lovely place. But at my 40th high school reunion, I looked more closely at the folks who still lived there. It was all the very same people I didn’t like in high school (and junior high and elementary school). I was suddenly perfectly content to NOT live there.


    1. Yup, I can see that. Yet CT is a lovely part of the world. Not as nice as Massachusetts, but still ;-). I will always long for true ‘home’ (MA) in the autumn and regular home (NYC) the rest of the time, but for smaller and smaller increments of time. I do worry thought that the longer we’re gone the larger the likelihood of never going back gets. And I guess that’s something that as of yet, I haven’t been able to swallow.


      1. WE have friends who stayed, and friends who went back after returning. Retirement is a problem for the friends who stayed — they lose access to both Social Security and Medicare after a while and can’t come when they want to.

        MA would be a lovely place too. We actually have a house in Maine — thus my headder. I’m New England through and through. Except that I live here in Dixie!


  4. I worry about a lot of the same things, so it is good to know I’m not alone in that 🙂 I do worry that the longer I’m away the less I will fit in when I eventually go back, but for now I am trying to enjoy every day as much as possible!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Not sure the grass is much greener then in Denmark! (But you have to take the green with the grey!!) I worry all the time that home won’t be the same! (Or worse still that it is the same and we are so different that it won’t feel like home anymore!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I understand this longing for home but for me it isn’t because I moved far away. At most I’ve only ever lived forty-five minutes from the house I grew up in. For me it is trying to find the comfort when I’ve lost both my parents and the linkages I had while they were alive. It is weird to have a husband who loves you and adult daughters who are more like friends but still feel like an orphan. So I search for home by driving by my old house which looks nothing like it did when I lived there. Or driving by one of the many bars I grew up in on weekends with my dad. Drinking Shirley Temples and eating chocolate pudding. I’m not envious of the distance you’ve traveled from home but I am envious that you have a place that you can call home.


    1. You’re not an orphan with so much love around you. That deep-rooted longing for something to call home though is fierce, isn’t it? It sings in your blood sometimes. (p.s.–those lines, drinking Shirley Temples and eating chocolate pudding while sitting on barstools with your dad–perfection. Let me know if you don’t use them in something written because I will if you don’t ;-). ). P.p.s.–mi casa es su casa–always has been. x

      Liked by 1 person

    2. You crack me up. The Shirley Temple line is yours to use as you’d like. Looking forward to seeing it in your work. Not sure I’ll ever get around to writing that book I’ve talked about. Let me know when you’re home again.


  7. I was asked by someone yesterday, “If you could run away from home where would you go?” My answer was Copenhagen, but like all places being there for five days gives one the distorted view that it is always sunny, everyone rides bikes to work and is fit and healthy, and there are no problems.


    1. There is really no place on earth like Copenhagen when it is sunny (I imagine the same is true of most of the far north Scandi cities). The reason for that is that for 1/2 to 3/4 of the year it can feel like there is no sun at all….There’s a saying here along the lines of if the weather was good, everyone would live here. The rest? Fairly accurate 😉


  8. My take…the home will have changed but not as much as you. The experience of living abroad will help you appreciate the good, deal with the indifferent and ignore the rest of it. What will really make it different is that team of basketball players you are lugging along with you. Your experiences here will be richer for your time away.. and taller.


  9. OK I’m starting to piece together your situation here now — very interesting. My folks divided their time between Pennsylvania and either Germany or France (half a year a time) and while it was exotic and fun, I know my mom never felt at home anywhere. So it’s an interesting topic, home…I like the image of the bed that your body is molded to, that’s good. And as a writer I hope it’s been helpful to live abroad, to take on new experiences and perspectives. – Bill


    1. The 2 biggest ways that living abroad has helped my writing: being able to view the US from the outside in and actually having the time to write. As an expat wife, I am blessed with not so much a room of my own as a Monday morning of my own. The indulgence of time and space–as a writer, how do you put a price tag on that? If it were a Mastercard commercial, it would come with a priceless tagline. There are difficulties, but overall, it has been such a positive experience for all of us. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

      Liked by 1 person

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D.E. Haggerty

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