Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Art of Coming Home

Did you know it was an art? Do you even know what I’m talking about? Isn’t this home? Should returning to the country of your birth ever need to be anything more than a tiny blip on the radar that is life? Did you have any idea that people of all ages and nations and walks of life have been studied and whole books have been written in order to better understand the phenomenon known as reverse culture shock? I’ve been reading one such book, which is aptly entitled, The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti (don't know him, not doing any kind of review, yadda yadda yadda...just reading a book).
This concept of reverse culture shock is something I've wanted to write about on my blog for a while now, mostly because it’s a topic that consumes much of my thinking. I’m more or less in the throes of it…I’m up, I’m down, I love it here, I miss it there, I wish I could see/do/be xyz here, I don’t miss that about there, I cry and wring my hands in frustration, won’t someone understand… I go hours or days without life there even entering my thoughts at all… but wait, that's no good…I want it to stay fresh in my head…no, it needs to fade…who am I now… how do I take what I learned about myself and people and differences and life and make it fit here…where do I belong and how do I balance memory and reality?
There is a problem though in writing about all of this in a forum such as blogland, or for that matter anywhere outside of the expatriate community, and that is this: at the very core of 'coming home' is the undeniable fact that people don't really care. I’m truly not being critical here, just keeping things real. It’s a bit of, "So what's the big deal? You were here, you moved overseas for a while, blah blah blah, and now you're back.... where you belong. Home.”
Do you know how many times I've heard those home... where you belong? The thing is we're not really feeling it. Not yet anyway. We will I’ve been told but at the moment not so much. I'm sure a few of you are rolling your eyes as you read this thinking, ‘My goodness, will she just get on with life already???” That's an honest reaction and I understand it. Recently the welcome wagon lady stopped by my house. She stayed for almost 2 hours and I’m pretty sure I mentioned we'd just moved back to the states after 6 years overseas but what she really wanted to talk about was...herself. Her reaction to me was pretty much the reaction I get from almost everybody when I mention that we're new... ‘Wow, London, that's anyway back to me’. A slight exaggeration but I think you know what I mean. We're all very much about our own stuff...our own little corner of the world, what's going on inside our own house and particularly what is going on inside our own head. Perhaps this reaction is a blessing in that it is what helps me move on, to look forward, to be in this moment and not moments past.
It’s a high wire act I find myself walking most days. I want to feel settled and at home here, in this place, this town, my country, but in doing so I don’t want to let go of a single thing that has been added to my life in the past six years. A friend who also lived in the UK for six years but has been back in the states for seven years now recently said to me, “Sometimes I forget I ever lived there. Like those years never happened.” Is that feeling inevitable? Oh I really hope not. How exactly do I embrace the new without letting go of the old?
I started my blog back in January. We’d been told since the previous June that we would be repatriating in the next few months and it was just after Christmas that the time frame seemed to come together. I knew then that I would be overwhelmed by my own thoughts and feelings and I started blogging to capture that in some way, to put some of those thoughts and feelings in writing so they wouldn’t keep me awake at night. I wrote about what I expected to feel as we made our way back across the pond. Now I’m feeling it and I want to write about that too. Perhaps this post reads like one great big giant whine but I assure you that is not the case at all. My heart is in fact feeling very full…full of gratitude and sweet memory and hope for the future. A future where memory and reality are blended in equal parts…where I smile at the old and welcome the new….where home is where I am and the rest is in my heart.


  1. You're not being critical, it is the truth! That people don't care sometimes! It's always about "me", "me", "me"....I think God wired us to not have complete satisfaction even in this place we call "home"...because we are meant to look forward to His heavenly home...In the meantime, just keep smiling and treasure what's in your heart...Blessings to you.

  2. I've heard this from so many people. My sister-in-law experienced it when she moved back from France. No one wanted to hear about France; no one sympathized with her feelings. No one understood why on earth she'd even have those feelings.

    I dread it. So far no word on when/if we're moving. We're lying low.

  3. You're not whining or being critical. Transferring from one place to another, whether it's across the country or across the ocean, involves some culture shock. Even when you're coming back "home". I don't think it needs to be a place of this is home and that wasn't. London was your home for six years. You captured it all perfectly in your last sentence: "where I smile at the old and welcome the new ... where home is where I am and the resit is in my heart." So beautifully written!

  4. I certainly think I can understand how you feel. Now that we are closing in on retirement, I think about the possibility of moving back "home" to Arkansas. But there are mixed feelings. We have great friends here in Birmingham, where we've been for 20 years now, so we'll see.

  5. My Mom lives in a small town in NW Florida but often takes really wonderful exotic trips . . . like three weeks in Australia or three weeks in Greece and Turkey. She has learned that when she comes home most people who ask, "How was your trip?" just want to hear, "fine" and go one with talking about themselves. So it has become a catch phrase with us. Fortunately there are a few people who will sit and look at her thousands of photos and really care about the trip. Hopefully you will find that too. Sometimes Ephesians 2:19 helps me to think of Heaven as my "home" and this as part of the journey. Love you!

  6. I lived in the same county my entire 57 years so I don't know what you are feeling but I can see where you would have the feelings and longings that you are struggling with and it's all okay.
    Would you believe that I've always felt a longing, almost a drawing, a tugging at my heart, to go to England one day? Go figure. :-) I've just always been so interested in England. How I would love to be able to go there and just travel through the countryside and villages at my leisure, to explore the coastlines. Perhaps someday.
    Your years of living in England will always be a part of you, a part of your history and you will, no doubt, always feel a part of you longing to be there, too.
    Thanks for sharing this part of you with us. ((HUGS))
    And, no, it didn't come across as whining at all!

  7. Joyce,

    Your blog is just what you make it. It's so amazing that each of us posts something different otherwise blogging would be downright boring.

    I think we all have memories some good and some sad of places we have lived and left pieces of ourselves. Just remember home will always be where our hearts, family and love resides while a house is simple a building with walls. It's all in what you make it to be.

    Love and Hugs ~ Kat

  8. Joyce,

    I can understand what you are going through. As you well know, I'm in England now and have been for a year and a half. Though I enjoy it here, it took a pretty long while to feel settled, connected, accepted, and embraced. And finally when I do, it's time to think about going back and go through what you are experiencing right now. I dread it!

    I guess the bottom line is to appreciate the blessings that God gives each one of us no matter where we are. Certainly we have grown through this incredible experience and have learned things about ourselves that are difficult to put into words. And it's perfectly understandable to feel like a part of you was left in England. I think it's wonderful that you were able to stay here for 6 years and embraced it with everything you've got. I think it's a matter of time before you feel that way about your new home, but in the meantime keep blogging and sharing. We're all listening.

    Blessings and hugs to you!

  9. I'm glad you're reaching out to the expat community and trying to link up with others who can truly understand where you're coming from. I can't imagine that moving from any place to another would be easy, much less from a place you truly loved to another that you also love. That feeling of splitness must be more difficult than a nice clean break, I would think.

    My husband is having a more muted, but similar reaction to transitioning back to the States from Iraq. I think that "no one cares" feeling is very real for him, and he struggles with wanting to talk about his experiences and not wanting to talk at all.

    Transitions are hard. I hope yours begins to smooth out. *hugs*

  10. I can't even begin to imagine what you must be feeling. I'm sorry that those around you haven't been as supportive as you need. We really are a selfish, self-centered society now aren't we? :-(

    Blessings to you as you settle back into North American life!

  11. Definitely understand your feelings Joyce. I was only in the UK for three years, but those first six months back in the states were definitely tough. I still think about the UK almost everyday, and it does start to feel like a dream more and more. I can't believe I've been back in the states over four years now...where does the time go? I'm so glad you are blogging about all of this. Thanks for the e-mail (and prayers) as well. :)