Sunday, December 22, 2013

A place called Home

When I begin to miss home I become strangely patriotic - snapping angrily at those who make a joke about the Queen or about our chances in the World Cup next year and I find myself defending things English that I’d ridicule under normal circumstances. 

I love and respect our Queen (“She’s not my Queen!” - Wesley), but there must surely be some kind of chemical imbalance in my brain for emotion to be registered when it comes to football.

And I don't know if all this technology helps. Two interesting articles recently raised the question as to whether technology – mobile phones, Facebook, Skype – lessened nostalgia or increased it. Does it give the illusion of closeness, or does it sadden the caller by reminding them sharply of what they have left behind (which is why parents were discouraged from phoning their children too often at English boarding schools)?
Apparently, certain kinds of modern personality find it better to suppress or eliminate the backward glance. Explicit discussions of homesickness are now rare...because the emotion was typically seen “as an embarrassing impediment to individual progress and prosperity.”

The immediacy that phone calls and the Internet provide means that those away from home can know exactly what they are missing and when it is happening. They give the illusion that one can be in two places at once but also highlight the impossibility of that proposition. 

The persistence of homesickness points to the limitations of the cosmopolitan philosophy that under girds so much of our market and society. The idea that we can and should feel at home any place on the globe is based on a world view that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.
And this longing, it is provoked and prolonged by the recurring leitmotiv of my time here: the faithfulness of my own family. 
Doctors are trained not to react to horrific injuries or conditions. It is called ‘clinical distance.’ But when confronted (day-in, day-out) by busted-up families, self-destructing individuals and children old before their time, and as I visit prisoners (literal and metaphorical) and am exposed to behaviours that are so outside what I have grown up around, I choose not to distance myself from these people's suffering (for fear that sympathy might trump empathy), but instead my own family become a sustaining reference.

I recall a Skype call with my sister a year or so ago, at the height of a particularly difficult episode at the rescue house, when she said to me “Just come home.” And that is the precious truth. And although it reminds me of how painfully inadequate and unequipped I am (what does it actually mean not to be able to go home?), no matter how difficult it may be from time to time, there is an ever-present safety net.

A security in the haven.

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