Posts Tagged ‘homesickness’

One of my best friends was about to become a mother, and I wouldn’t be there. Oh, we still had e-mails, phone calls, visits, but I would miss the small events—like visiting her in the hospital or leaving a tray of lasagna in her fridge—the mundane participation that is the true meaning of friendship. She was over there and I was here, and the circles of our daily lives overlapped less and less, until they barely touched at all.

I knew it wasn’t her fault, or mine, just the natural consequence of distance. And yet recently the distance had started to loom unforgiving and unmanageable, shadowing almost all my relationships. I felt it when I saw photos of friends’ new boyfriends-turned-husbands, with my baby nieces who were suddenly young girls weaving me pot holders, with my parents who grew a little grayer every time I visited. The people I loved most in the world were living the most important moments of their lives without me, and I was living mine without them. It took me a while to recognize the emotion, unfamiliar as it was, but when I did, it scratched at me with thorny immediacy: I was homesick.”

—Ann Mah, Mastering the Art of French Eating

mom betsy kitchen

(My mom and my sister, in my parents’ kitchen at Christmastime)

I devoured Mah’s lovely, warm memoir of the year she spent alone in Paris while her husband was on a diplomatic assignment in Iraq. (He was originally posted to Paris, but when he was called away, she had to stay behind.) I savored Mah’s descriptions of Parisian cafés and her accounts of trips to Lyon, Brittany, Provence and other locales, as she researched the origins of such classic French dishes as crêpes, cassoulet and boeuf bourgignon. But this passage about love and homesickness made my breath catch in my chest.

Because I know. I know what it’s like to stand on a city street corner, the wind whipping my hair around my face as my sister tells me over the phone, from two thousand miles away, that she’s pregnant. I know the mingled ache and joy of receiving texted pictures of a friend’s sparkling new engagement ring, and the unmitigated ache of not being able to travel to a family funeral. I understand the annual balancing act of splitting my vacation time between exciting destinations (like our recent trip to San Diego) and booking plane tickets back home, squeezing out a few extra days here and there to play with my nephew and quote old movies with my dad.

All of us who have moved away from the places we grew up, or the places where we have lived and made friends as adults, know this particular kind of homesickness. We wish we could gather all our loved ones in one place, so we could be there for all the important moments instead of seeing them on Facebook, or drop in for dinner instead of making do with phone calls and emails and tweets. We do our best to put down roots where we are, digging deeply into a few new relationships, but we miss the everyday joy of the “mundane participation” Mah mentions. We know we are lucky to have friends in multiple states, sometimes even on several continents. But our heartstrings get sore from the constant tugging in so many directions, and we wish it were simpler, but we know it never will be.

I don’t have any answers, and Mah admits she doesn’t either, other than the tried-and-true remedies of spending time with loved ones when possible, and aiming to be present in the life she had, rather than wallowing in nostalgia. (Though sometimes the wallowing is unavoidable.) But I wanted to share this passage because this is what I love best about reading: the shock of recognition when someone else’s words express an emotion or a thought so perfectly that all you can say is “Me too.”


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My one little word for this year is comfort. And it has been elusive so far. I feel like I’ve had to chase it, instead of finding it around every corner, the way I did last year with “brave.”

I’ve been trying hard to provide physical comfort for myself and my husband – not always an easy task during a long, cold winter. Lots of tea and warm boots and tights under my jeans; coats and knitted accessories; bowl after bowl of soup; warm desserts, like apple crumble or soft, chewy cookies. Twinkle lights in our living room. Soft tissues for our constantly leaking noses.

I suppose that has been, more or less, successful. But the kind of emotional comfort I’m after – the feeling of ease, of belonging, of finally feeling like we have a place here in Boston – is still eluding me.

I catch glimpses of it, to be sure, when we’re at Brookline singing and sharing life with friends; when we spend Sunday evenings at Ryan and Amy’s, sharing a meal and then singing some more; when I meet up with Abi and Shanna on Thursday nights. I’m starting to glimpse it in my new office, though I still feel like the new kid. And J and I have had several “friend-dates” lately with new people or couples who live close by.

Still, though, I’m struggling with homesickness. I miss wide streets and spicy salsa and running into people I know at the grocery store. I miss Sunday nights at the Donagheys’, Tuesday nights at Mezamiz with my coffee ladies, lunches with Julie and other girlfriends. When I was in Abilene I longed to leave it for new adventures; now that I’m gone, I miss it keenly, every single day.

I know it’ll always be different up here. But I’m still waiting for that feeling of yes. That feeling of knowing this is our home for a while. Getting a full-time job, and having to adjust to a whole new rhythm, threw into sharp relief how unsettled I still feel here. We are still strangers, and that is not comforting. And that kind of comfort is harder to manufacture than the physical kind.

I suppose the answer is to simply sit with the discomfort, to fall back on the practices I know will nourish me as I keep settling in, keep seeking comfort in this new place. And, of course, a cup of tea or a bowl of soup or a cozy handknit cowl never hurt anyone.

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