so, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
never enough for both.
With my Instagram being made up of an eclectic mix of Italians abroad and foreigners in Italy, you can imagine the responses I received when I shared these words in my stories. Sometimes I wonder if there still exists a single person who feels like they are enough for the place they live this very moment. When you think about it, so many of us are already the product of a move. My grandparents from China to Canada, my husband’s aunts and uncles from Abruzzo to Canada, my little brother from Edmonton out East to Toronto, even my MIL (mother-in-law, suocera) from her small mountain town in Abruzzo to Bergamo…we have all in some way, moved. So if it’s any consolation, we are all too foreign for here and there.
Some of the Hallmark lines I hate the most are when people say “home is where the heart is” and “it doesn’t matter where in the world you are as long as you’re with the people you love”. I’m going to tell you something- the people that say that have never lived abroad. Because you see, what if the heart is in multiple different places? The concept of home breaks my heart because mine is in the house I grew up in, in a cemetery under a bright Alberta sky where we buried my grandpa and where my dad’s ashes hang out in the shade of an oak, mine is with my mother, brother, and all my living family members scattered throughout Canada and the United States, it’s here in this kitchen in Italy and hard at work somewhere in Milan with my husband; so once again, if home is where the heart is, it’s everywhere and nowhere. It has no GPS coordinates and you can't "go to it" and that, that is saddest sacrifice you will ever make as an expat, whether you realize it now or not.
The other thing about being with the people you love and the rest of it not mattering, that’s an idealist’s view of the world and this is coming from a romantic who would love to believe the romantic ideal. It’s just not true. I have seen too many people come and go from Italy to know that you can be with the perfect person and it won’t be enough. You can have your person and Tuscany and gelato anytime you want and it won’t be enough. And you know what? That’s completely fine, in fact, it’s completely how it should be. Because we need more from life than just what people can give us and if your life’s every happiness weighs on people, there’s something intrinsically wrong with that. YOU have to be enough for yourself and in order to do that, we require certain things and love is certainly ONE of those things (so is gelato), but so are a sense of community, a feeling of belonging, the opportunity to fulfill a purpose. Living abroad has made me realize that and that’s why it’s fucked me over for life because until that happened, I believed the romantic notions, I believed that home was a person, that home was love yet I was wrong and Thomas Wolfe, the novelist, was right.
He said you can’t go home again. I remember that this line opens up the coming-of-age movie, “Now and Then”, and I used to think it was the saddest thing I’d ever heard and that the whole point of the movie was to show that it wasn’t true (in fact, it’s the opposite). With the passage of time, we change, the people around us change, as does the place. For someone that has never moved, those are just three factors and the blow might be softened in that the changes are harder to perceive when you live them on a daily basis (like how it seems like your parents aren’t aging because wrinkles don’t just appear overnight). So this is where living abroad fucks you over again – it adds two more factors to the fun fix: THE PEOPLE AND THE PLACES YOU LEFT BEHIND. And how much do you think someone who lives abroad perceives the changes in those people and places when they come back “home”?
Well that depends on the person. Some expats I know say they go home and it’s like “nothing has changed” and they feel like only they themselves have changed. That’s how I used to feel but I think that’s the honeymoon phase of it all, in the first year or two. I wish for you, if you’re an expat, that this feeling of nothing having changed stays that way because that means you have not yet lost anyone you left behind, forever. Unfortunately I experienced two in the span of these four years and I can guarantee you that the moment that happens, everything changes and you will never go home again. At the risk of sounding overly depressing, there is a way to go home and it applies to all of us, whether you live abroad, are thinking about living abroad, or have vowed to build a house next to your childhood school:
We’ll all just have to carry Home, The Actuality, around with us, until our own blood stops pumping. And then Home, The Actuality, will have some new and just as unrecoverable shape: whatever Home is, it’s not something “out there” to return to. It’s something inside, to which we can all return (or not) as we want, as often as we want.
- quote from John E. Simpson, in his answer on Quora
I moved to Italy four years ago and whenever I board a plane going to Canada, I feel like I’m going home yet the same thing happens when I board the return flight back to Italy. It’s like a mind-fuck of the ultimate proportions. Maybe that’s why I love flying so much, I relish in those hours spent on the plane, suspended in the clouds above a blur of land and sea - perhaps that’s where I feel most comfortable, in the middle ground, neither here nor there, just physically and metaphorically floating in the in-between, carrying home with me.
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