Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Finding Happiness Where I Am

'Idon't care where I live,'' my husband says, ''as long as I'm with you.'' I wish I could echo this tender declaration: But I do care where I live, more and more. I have just returned from visiting England, my home country. In five whirlwind days, I saw my brother's new baby, my family, the landscape, and I came back torn: glad to have been there, sad about living so far away.

In my absence, a catalog arrived featuring a book about the plight of refugees; a newspaper article appeared saying 1 in every 115 people on Earth is now on the run or in some kind of exile. How dare I, from a safe house and a fortunate life, indulge my own small sorrow? Yet I cannot seem to let it go.

About these ads

Homesickness was not on my mind when, fresh from college and eager to explore, I went to teach in Italy. I met my husband there, and we enjoyed Italy together, this American and I. Immersed in the life and language, to say nothing of love, I rarely missed England. Once I even curtailed a visit to my family; my mother understood, saying ''home is where the heart is.'' My heart is still with the same man, 17 years later, but I'm not sure where home is anymore.

Here in the United States, many good things have happened to me; most days I am happy, as I know I ought to be. Then suddenly comes the longing to return.

Returning and exploration, after all, are two sides of the same coin, as I found when I was a child and we went to Cornwall every summer. It was an adventure, a day's drive west to a different and enchanted country. The air was soft. The long arms of the cliffs reached into the sea, and small fishing villages were tucked between them.

Yet when the holiday was over, there was a subtle pleasure in returning to our house, to the long grass in the garden, and to the ungathered windfalls under the apple tree.

That house was in Surrey, but later we moved to the Cotswold hills, so I was startled to see a recent advertisement in an American magazine for an ''Authentic English Cotswold Estate'' in Greenwich, Conn. Such ersatz reminders make the sense of dislocation more acute, because here things appear familiar, only to reveal themselves as different in some crucial way.

The language seems the same, but then you find a ''yard'' is a garden, a stone wall can be a ''fence.'' The ''robin'' is a big creature in the thrush family. I had forgotten the delicacy of the English bird it was named for, until I saw the new film of ''The Secret Garden.''

There was the small round scarlet-breasted body on twig legs, head tipped, bright eyes shining. I believed the robin really was talking -- to the gardener, to Mary, and to me. He told me, trilling in the liquid way I had forgotten about, that I was losing the language of my own country, that I had gone too far from the place where I grew up.

About these ads

Other birds seem to echo that song. I turn on ''Masterpiece Theater'' or ''Mystery'' and hear blackbirds and wood-pigeons with an instant pang, sharp as an aroma; their calls evoke a dewy green morning, the intimacy of valleys, and stone villages deep down in them.

It was in a Cotswold village church that my brother was married last spring. We drove there in sun, hail, and even a flurry of snow, past fields of amazing green. The sheep had new lambs beside them.

During the service, I looked at the carvings on each side of the chancel arch, while the vicar said that love isn't all romance -- it has a cross to bear. And I thought my cross might be never to live in my own country again.

Outside the arched doorway, we took photographs; the bride's yellow dress brought out the honey color of the limestone. The sun was shining, but for me there seemed to blow a bitter wind. Although cold, dampness, unemployment, and rising crime don't feature in my nostalgic memories, I know they exist. I don't care. I, who scorned people with no yen to travel, who despised Americans so homesick they couldn't enjoy Italy, I, the supremely adaptable, just want to be at home.

Each time I visit, and I'm fortunate I can, I grow closer to my family, especially my five siblings, who were so young when I left. But I am forgetting the way the language works, especially the sense of humor. If we moved there now, many details of everyday life would be new to me, let alone to my husband and children.

Will I end up belonging nowhere?

I look out of the window now and am glad of the spring morning. The trees are coming into leaf. Birds sing. But then there creeps into my heart a wish that the birds were English birds and the trees English trees; and of this wistfulness marring the gift of the day, I am ashamed. The real exiles of the world push me to make these words of Isak Dinesen's my own: ''You woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.