Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The itinerant's sense of home

In the last years of her life, when she was living in my brother's home in Jamaica, my mother used to wake up to that view. I look at it now, and it steals my breath. Sometimes, I can't quite hold on to the feeling of being from this place, the understanding that no matter how far I travel it will always be mine. This is the land of my birth. Lately, I have begun to wonder why I left it. It's too late now. My children are planted in the land of their birth, which means that is where I will stay.

My girl is flying home from LA today, after having what appears from her social media posts to have been a fun-filled visit. Here's a photo of her and Henri, who became one of my favorites of the friends she made college. Henri, who grew up in Hawaii and Botswana and then went to a private boarding school in the Midwest (Ohio or Indiana, I can't remember at this moment), now lives in LA, and she had a whole agenda of activities planned for our girl. Much like my daughter, her spirit is joyful. I love these young women together. Henri, who used to stay with us sometimes on the way back to college, once talked with me about the itinerant's sense of home, the way it is always shifting, never quite rooted, always with a whisper or a side-eye of but where are you really from? I knew exactly what she meant. I am an American citizen, yet after 43 years of studying and living and working and raising a family and paying taxes in this country, I still feel as if my claim on this place is fragile, understood by some as illegitimate. When I speak my piece on the current goings on in government, I can always hear the unspoken, then why don't you go back home? But this is the land where my children were born. And so I will stake my claim defiantly, and express my opinions as vociferously as I choose, because my children's rights to this land, and all that is in it, are inalienable.

Safe travels home, my berry girl. See you when you land.


  1. What an incredible piece of writing, dear friend! It says so much and it IS so much and yes, you are right- this place, this country, is as much yours as it is anyone's at all. And that is how this country was built and made and thrived and in forgetting that, the very essence of ourselves is in deep trouble.

  2. You are at home.

    My daughter has three passports, when asked she says, the world is our homeland, humanity is our family.

  3. Your "berry girl", I wonder where that came from. Jamaica looks like paradise and what a lovely place to reside it has, in your heart.

    I was born here and have lived here all my life, except for 2 years of travel, but I also don't always feel at home here. I'm never sure whether that is because I feel alien to a lot of the ways in which America handles it's self in this world, which go against my morals, or whether my second generation Danish blood still runs through my veins so strongly. But is my country, not matter what.
    I love your writing, no wonder your profession, it chose you well

  4. Gorgeous writing,,,Having spent the first nineteen years of my life in another country and travelled widely as a younger person, I very much identify as an itinerant spirit.

  5. "And so I will stake my claim defiantly, and express my opinions as vociferously as I choose, because my children's rights to this land, and all that is in it, are inalienable."

    Your daughter and her friend and so many of our young Americans with their joyful spirits do my heart good.

    When I looked at that exquisite glimpse of Jamaica, my heart was reminded of my home that I left 43 years ago and I also experienced déjà vu. Although I am living in the same country where I was born, I am nearly 1000 miles north of where I was born and raised. 1000 miles is a world away in terms of climate and culture. My parents moved 2000 miles south and west of where they were born in this country. Since the early 1800s, each generation in my family has moved from where they were made. Before that, they were in the same place for generations in Norway, Germany, and England. My only nephew, 25 years old now, may be the first once since the 1800s on my side of the family to stay where he was born, in the city of Seattle. That is where his son was born 4 years ago. He has found no good reason to leave his beloved home city of Seattle, except to travel to India and the Philippines. His grandfather on his father's side was the first of his generation to come from the Philippines. Once his grandfather settled in Seattle, he stayed for the rest of his life. Although I, too, wonder why I left a place I loved so dearly, now I have a sense of home in two places. No matter which one I go to, I miss the other. And yet, my sense of home in Washington State is different than my sense of my birth home in Northern California, where I have a feeling of kinship with the landscape and the sky and the ocean and birds and flowers and trees. Have you read Grandfather's Journey, by Allen Say? I think you might like the way it tells a story of home.

  6. You present such beautiful images, verbally or in photographs...

  7. Oh, I so like to think that your beautiful girl and I were in the same city for however short a time. I would have loved to have run into her on the street!

  8. In my deepest and wildest hopes we would know we are all one people on one earth. We have the lands where we were born and the millions of miles of footsteps of every ancestor who dreamed. Our hearts know home.