When 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.
For 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.