I was asked to write about homecoming a few weeks ago. I knew, with a quick rush of confusion, that I could approach this topic from a multitude of angles. I thought of my recent trip to Australia and the coming “home” that meant for me. Then I thought of our return to Canada and the unexpected relief I felt at that homecoming after a wonderful but tiring time away. I also thought of the many times during the week when I count the minutes (and sometimes seconds) for my OTL’s nightly homecomings in anticipation of another pair of arms, hands, eyes with which to deal with Tiny’s (quite big) world and needs. But mostly I thought about the notion of “home”, and what that means when we think of “coming” to it. (“Lordy,” as my mother would say, and probably why it has taken me a few weeks to start this post.)
If I’ve learned one thing since I left Australia, it is that the idea of home is a complex one, and not necessarily one with a fixed address. If you’d asked me before I left Australia to define my place, my land, my home, I would have directed you to tropical North Queensland. I would have painted you a picture of lush, overlapping, large-leafed plants; of warm, flat, tropical water; and of the slow pace that a hot, humid climate insists upon. Not to mention the light - the warm, clear, bright light of tropical sunlight. However, at the time I left Australia, I hadn’t lived in that place for 16 years. I had long since moved away from my childhood home to the city of Brisbane - with its sub-tropical/semi-temperate climate; its different, more filtered light; its nearby wild, cold seas; and its quicker, city pace. Yet, for all those years I called that place home, too, and it remains the city that most will associate with me.
I spent my first years in Canada waiting for some sense of “home” to call me back. I thought, given enough time, that the waves of homesickness would slowly grow stronger and, eventually, I would give my OTL the nod and we would begin our plans to move to Australia for good. I thought the call to home would ring clear as a bell and the decision would be straightforward (if not easy). Yet, my OTL often reminds me of how emphatic I was whenever, after a burst of tears from me, he would ask if I wanted to return. “No,” I would exclaim quickly, “not yet.”
I think one of the reasons I could answer so confidently, then, was that I never confused my grief for my old life with my sense of the place that I must return to. And there’s the rub. How do you know the place that you need to return to? What is possible for homecoming, if your sense of home is never quite finally defined?
I have been in Canada now for three and a half years. In that time, I have lived in three provinces in three vastly different towns in three distinctively different parts of the country. To be sure, I have seen and experienced a lot more of Canada than many Canadians. I have met many people and made more new friends in these years than I had for the ten prior to leaving Australia. I have also married a Canadian, gained a whole new family, become a Permanent Resident and a home owner, and had a baby. I have changed my life, and my place, almost completely. If ever there were the beginnings of a sense of “home,” Canada surely is host to some important ones.
However, there will always be an uneasy tension between the memories and attachments of my old home and the possibilities and realities of my new one. Both pull forcefully on me – nostalgically, pragmatically, imaginatively – and never the twain shall meet. Instead, as I ponder this topic tonight, I am tempted to fashion a new sense of home to help me better understand it. (I’m borrowing from my studies in Identity to help me think this through, though, so bear with me.) In the same way that we can understand our identities to be ever changing as our lives progress – in that we are always in a state of being and becoming who we are – so is my sense of home. Home is not a set of coordinates on a map (although it can start there). Home is a sense of place, despite geography, that through the meaning we make, the relationships we have, and the life we create there, is always in a state of being and becoming Home (with a capital h). For me, it matters who is there and how we are there. This is a complex idea that could probably do with more careful thinking but I like the possibilities it offers. To risk a terrible cliché, home is a journey and not a destination. (Okay, I apologise for that. That was uncalled for.) However, it does help me to understand why this tropical girl can sometimes feel a sense of homecoming on a snowy day in Canada.
Earlier tonight I called my OTL to tell him I was on my way back to the house. In the background I could hear Tiny tromping on the wooden floors and saying “Wagoo, wagoo, wagoo!” with great enthusiasm and it made me laugh out loud right there in the car service centre. I realised, in that moment, on this snowy night, where home was and why. Home, for now, anyway.
PS: London has been experiencing “Snowmageddon!” (as the local newspaper reports it), which means that more than half of the average winter snowfall has fallen in the last three days. It has been fun, and beautiful, and exciting, and I have loved it. It is a far cry from Townsville, Queensland, I can tell you. Most of these are photos I took of the neighbouring suburb this morning while walking Dot the Dog.