While scanning my reduced bookshelves the other day (most of my things are either in storage or in Germany) I saw a book I didn’t recognise. A slim volume, it seemed to have been put there by my Mum, likely because she assumed the subject would interest me greatly. Either that or there is some other force at play who happens to know one of the precise subjects I have been thinking about, writing about and trying to fully fathom for the past two years and thought this book might help. Pretty sure it was my Mum.
The Idea of Home is a transcript of a series of lectures given by Geraldine Brooks, award-winning journalist, author and expat, each peering closely at the varied notions of home and what they mean. I read the first lecture last night and two pages in, found this from Homer’s Odysseus;
Nothing is as sweet in the end as country and parents, ever,
Even if, far away, you live in a fertile place.
I stared at it for a long time. A fertile place. What nourishes the soil of a fertile place? Clean tap water, a great healthcare system. Wonderful theatre and big green parks. Good food and great schools. Your loved ones, wife, husband, children. Friends. Your job. All of these things make a place fertile, give you reason to be there, to take it in and hold it close, as a home, something precious, appreciated, adored. All of these things give you roots, anchor you to a ground you may not have taken your first steps upon, but a ground that nevertheless nourishes you, lets you grow, safe and strong. A ground that is home.
You see the people who moved to another country, to new soil, thirty, fifty, sixty years ago. The people who had and raised their own family in this new country, children that speak that country’s language, see themselves as from, part of, that country. I live in a fertile place. I see these people all the time, these people with two or three languages on the tip of their tongues, these people with houses full of books and knick-knacks, a mind full of memories and inherent understandings from a country far away. People with good international phone plans and logistical problems when it comes to those big rituals like weddings and funerals. These people who love this fertile land for all it has given them and their children, but … no, and who will always, in some way big or small, long for the sweetness of parents who are not here and a country they left behind. There is not but, no one thing at the expense of the other. There is simply more.
I think, in many ways, and at the perfect time in my young life, I have found a handful of words that sit somewhere deep within, that recline with their arms folded and say to me, ‘go on, go and find out.’ Words that give context to what has become and what will become – what is, I suppose – my very life. It is going to take me a long time to figure out if Homer was right – or whether one can love a fertile country with the same depth and breadth they do their parents and country. Or, at least, to see the way in which it all works, all comes together; the imprints and patterns both homes leave on one another and the paths that split from the present, like threads from a hem, as I plough, sow and till new soils different to the ones my parents did. Different to the soils of my country.