You know the feeling: a melange of sadness, loneliness, and anxiety that threatens to send you scampering back to your room where, rocking back and forth in the dark watching reruns of Father Ted and The Vicar of Dibley, you consider buying a ticket on the next flight home. For many travelers, it’s not so much a question of “will it strike?” but “when will it strike?” Day one? Week six on the trail? Three years after moving overseas? Even Odysseus, that millennia-spanning hero of Homer’s, was crippled by its effects (his particular case involved a lot of weeping and rolling on the ground pounding the earth)!
Yes, I’m talking about homesickness.
I’ve referred to it in passing in other posts, but I felt it deserved more focus especially in light of a recent entry on Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding blog. The post is actually a quote from a distractingly-named article by Frank Bures’ in which he describes how people form an inner world of expectations, beliefs, and logic — culture, in other words — that we strive to maintain as we grow older. It’s the kind of passage that on reading seems so obvious, and yet it requires the delicate probing of insight to coax the thought into consciousness.
As I commented on the Vagabonding post, it struck me that perhaps the “home” in homesickness corresponds to the culture with which a given person most closely identifies. The act of travel fundamentally dislocates you from your home (in every sense of the word) and tests the bounds of your “inner world” as Mr. Bures put it. The resulting responses can be homesickness, the negative guise, or culture shock, a more positive expression. The bottom line, however, is that your worldview is expanding and your cultural lexicon is growing.
The theory actually holds water. It makes sense that over time homesickness dissipates as you become more familiar with your surroundings and reprogram your logic. The idea jibes with the idea of Topophilia, too, which simply means “love of place” in Greek. As one prone to sessions of introverted analysis and bouts of homesick episodes, I had on more than one occasion attempted to understand what it was I was really missing. The answer was always very nebulous; it wasn’t until I read the quote on Rolf’s website that “nebula” as the answer actually made sense. What we miss, while in the grip of homesickness, is a complex web of people, places, routines, and familiarity. Home isn’t a place, it’s a lifestyle. And for many people, that lifestyle means spending the majority their lives within a small radius of miles.
For better or for worse, iPhones, Facebook, Skype, and other technology have made it easier than ever to feed your Topophilia. Unless you’ve forsaken said tools, you should have no problem shutting off Father Ted and hitting the streets, hills, and beaches of wherever you are with gusto.
So when you feel the twinge of homesickness, liken it to the satisfying burn at the end of a workout. After all, your culture muscle is growing.
How have you dealt with homesickness?
Listening to: Four Tet – Angel Echoes
Drinking: JM Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde
Original photo by olixilo via Flickr under Creative Commons