Wendy Wickham’s recent poignant video tribute to the Virginia Tech tragedy includes a line that is the latest is many things that have got me thinking about what the word “home” means. Another was a comment on one of my recent series of holiday-related posts.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I live in
One of the first thing people want to do when they hear me speak – often even in the most fleeting encounters, like at the supermarket checkout – is to identify my accent. “Where are you from?” they ask. And they don’t want to know where I live. They want to know where I’m from. Of course, it’s great that they’re interested. What they don’t realise is how the question says “you’re different, you don’t fit the model” and when you hear that question almost every day, the subliminal message is reinforced.
Quite often people follow up the question with others. Do you like it here? What made you come here? More than once I have been asked, “What made you decide to come back?” Back? What on earth does that mean? The first time I ever travelled outside of
After 8 years,
I have not been to
I think home is where you feel you belong. Whether you feel safe there or not. It’s the place where you don’t have to keep explaining yourself to people. In these terms I no longer have a home. I don’t belong here, and I no longer belong there.
My husband’s family emigrated to
So how will it be for my children? They have a Swedish father, a South African mother and they’re growing up in
We own a house. We pay tax. We vote in elections. But in one sense we are homeless. Sojourners. We don’t really belong anywhere.
Most of the time we just get on with the business of living, but there are times when the sense of dispossession hits hard and deep. Seeing communities pull together the way folks have in Blacksberg makes me realise that, at some level we all want to belong. The way they have risen up and defiantly shouted to the skies that they are hokies-and-proud-of-it is reminiscent of the sense of national identity after 9/11 when, for a while, people stopped being Irish American, Latino, African American, Native American, Polish, whatever, and became American.
Afterthought: I noticed several apparently foreign names in the list of the Blacksberg deceased and I wonder whether in life they also felt “apart” as I do. In death, they are an integral part of the community, and mourned as such. I wonder whether this only applies to those brutally cut off in their prime.