Burning Port William

An uprooted homebody ponders place, distance, and the survival tactic that Wendell Berry would certainly not approve.

I rarely called home when I was in college. Surprising, for a girl with such a close-knit family, but it was one of my primary strategies for dealing with the great distance. I was homesick a lot, especially in the early years, and it was much easier to forget the homesickness if I focused really hard on where I was and what I was doing in the moment. Calling my parents reminded me that the life I had always known in the home I had always known was still going on in my absence, and dwelling on that made it a lot harder for me to be happy and content at school. My dad wrote me letters pretty frequently and they became my hotline to home–full of descriptions and the minutiae that make up family life–and I loved to read them but even they were hard to take.

Over time, it got easier. The all-encompassing reality of home faded into memory as I built a life at school and even went abroad to study. The present was no longer so precarious, so easily destroyed by the sound of a voice. I learned to carry reality with me, to find it wherever I happened to be–Florida, or Austria, or Pennsylvania or Colorado or Capitol Hill. Right now it’s northern Virginia, in the cozy basement bedroom of a beautiful old house full of love and surrounded by trees. This place is really beautiful and I am blessed to be here, so blessed by the people who support me and the God who never leaves me alone.

But sometimes I wonder: is this the only way? I have gotten to a point at which I treat home as an un-reality. I talk to my family–the people my uncle would call “the home folks–and it doesn’t pain me because I don’t think of them as being home. As long as I am not in it, their place is as alien to me as Buenos Aires or Yemen or a spaceship. How can that be right? Is the mental and spiritual deconstruction of a place the only way to bear a separation from it? And, at the end of the day–is that an acceptable price to pay?

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