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"Home is a Memory"
Home is the doors of my old school,
But most important of all,
One of the things I like about this poem of Edward's is that one can read it in a variety of different ways.
Given one reading, the poem illustrates two opposing dimensions of the global nomad's experience of "home:" home as everywhere and home as nowhere.
In the first stanza, Edward defines home based on connections, possessions, relationships. He brings it alive for us with his descriptionÑhome manifests in the doors of his old school, as his puppy dog plays, where his soccer shirt "flutters like a forlorn flag," in the familiar sight of the "cathedral ground, wet with dew in the misty morning." As Edward describes it here, home is a little bit everywhere.
In the second stanza home is the place from whence he came, the place where he once lived. The problem is, however, that his home is in fact not there: home is nothing more than a picture in a photo album, "something you only remember if you pull that album off a shelf or you think a homesick thought." Home now is nothing "but a memory," is, in fact, nowhere.
Both of these descriptions of home are very real to the global nomad experience. Home as relationships and memories means home is everywhere; like a turtle, home travels with you wherever you go. Home as a particular place, however, may often mean home is nowhere. When one's physical home changes regularly, home as a geographical location may come to have little meaning. It becomes critical, then, that parents and educators of multimover global nomads broaden their concept of home. Emphasizing a geographically-based definition of home reinforces a sense that home is nowhere. On the other hand, broadening that definition to match Edward's first stanza enables a global nomad to reconceptualize home. It becomes more than just "your imagination, caught in images, in your mind;" it becomes the playing of one's trumpet "getting a little bit better every day," regardless of where in the world one finds oneself.
In the ideal, home becomes an internal experience of connection.
Edward's poem also speaks powerfully of the experience of re-entry: the return to one's country of origin after a sojourn abroad. His first stanza can be understood as all those experiences of home that Edward has missed during his family's international assignment. It's not uncommon for a global nomad, especially perhaps a first-time mover, to remember with great attachment that home now so ardently missed. If only s/he was back there, at home, all would again be right with the world. Then comes re-entry, however, that happy dayÑand then comes the realization that home is "but a memory, changing while you're gone....Home is just a dream, gone if you go back." At the age of only 13, Edward understands enough about expatriate re-entry to issue sage advice: let go of what was so that you can be with what is so that you can someday meet with what will be.
"Where are you from?" is one of the most challenging questions a person can pose a global nomad. "Where is home?" Does the person want to know where I was born, where my siblings were born, where I live now, the place I've lived the longest, the place I liked best, the place my parents call home...?
Many global nomads are raised to equate home with the country that issues them their passport: their "passport country." This may be the country of their citizenship, perhaps the country of their birth, not necessarily a country of significant personal experience or of any heart-felt relationship. A Canadian global nomad, speaking of his childhood relationship with Canada, spoke about "riding on his parent's mythology" 1. Home was "but a memory," and a parent's memory at that.
Parents and educators and others in the global nomad's life can facilitate an experience of home as being a little bit everywhere. Global nomadsÑand indeed all expatriatesÑcan learn to take with them that which reminds them of connection, relationship, possession. This might be a physical possession, what some have called "sacred objects" 2. One of Edward's sacred objects is his trumpet; he knows he's at home when he hears its echoe, "getting a little bit better every day." If Edward takes that sacred object with him on the airplane, has it with him in the hotel, moves it into his new house and puts it in a place of honor, Edward will have a piece of home with him at each stage of his international transition.
A sacred object might also manifest as a personal discipline. Practicing yoga every day, for example, regardless of where in the world one find's oneself, turns that place into an expression of belonging and of home. It also brings continuity into a discontinuous lifeÑa critical consideration for multimover global nomads or, indeed, for anyone experiencing frequent change. Continuity can be provided by household goods; whatever else has changed, you're sitting in the same armchair and eating with the same cutlery. Continuity can be provided by family ritual: my mother created a tradition within our family of a "jet lag supper" of soup, potatoes and cheese (my father being Swiss). Whether it was my father reintegrating into the family after a business trip away or one of us coming home from university, our jet lag supper reminded us across the years and across the many countries that we were now again home.
1 Timothy Dean, personal communication
2 I first heard this term used by Norma McCaig, founder of Global Nomads International.
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