Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Homeward Bound

I met an old teaching colleague yesterday, whilst strolling around in my wintry, Christmas cardy home town in Sweden. We had been working together in the 80s and 90s and had not seen each others for donkeys years.

He came to talk about how it is living in two 'homes', never really feeling at home in any of them. He asked me how I felt about living in the UK and if I was missing Sweden a lot. Although he had only moved from one part of Sweden to another, his longing for his original 'home' had become stronger and stronger with age, he said. It must have been over 30 years or so since he moved.

When he was here, he kept thinking of how much better things were over there. But once he was there - he experienced some kind of 'Is this it?' type of feeling and wanted to come back to his present 'home'. The grass is greener, you know.

I guess we all build up a perfect picture of how our childhood homes were and, with age, with things moving on - they change and maybe not always for the better.

My late uncle lived most of his life in the USA - a place he had been longing to go to ever since he was young. Back in the 50s, his dream became reality. After a week's journey on the mighty 'Gripsholm America boat' which set off from Gothenburg, he came to settle there.

With time, he started to compare the countries and thought less and less about America. Sweden was the place to be. But, with work, family and friends - he never really complained and kept the home-coming dream within himself.

He wrote letters to me and I could read between the lines how strong his homesick feelings really were, even if he did his best to disguise them. Every time he came to visit, I recall seeing him looking out over the lake in our home town, with tearful eyes and - he hated saying goodbye.
In his old age, when his son had moved to another part of the US and his wife died, he eventually did move back.

But times had changed. He was of course older, most of his old mates had died and - well, things were maybe not as exciting as he had imagined.
He ended his days in a home, suffering from Alzheimer's. As it happened, I was in Sweden on a visit from the UK when he died and I sat by his bed, holding his hand as he took his last breath.

I wonder if future generations will feel as torn between two continents as he did. Today's world provides ample possibilities to travel and settling down does maybe not have to be for life, in the same way as it used to be.

I said to my colleague "I think I am the sort of person you can plonk down just about anywhere in the world and I will adapt." If you think about your whereabouts as temporary, wherever you are on this planet - you avoid feelings of loss and longing. It is the people who inhabit these places that matter, not the actual places themselves.

Or at least - that's what I would like to think.

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