"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place." Miriam Adeney
It comes in the strangest of forms, in the most unexpected moments and sometimes it is unrecognisable. It is incredibly hard to explain or define and therefore, exceedingly hard to comfort, because it is so different for every person.
It can be missing a place, a person, a feeling, a situation, an atmosphere, an understanding, a culture or just a decent loaf of bread. It can be each and all of those rolled into one and then none of them at the same tiny moment.
When you move around, you ‘miss’ things you thought you would never miss: the novelty of being cold and wearing a coat, for instance.
I could fill a whole post of things I miss, but mostly it’s just small things: having dinner with my family and laughing at the dog, wearing more than one layer at a time, taking a quick trip to the corner shop in my pyjamas and UGG boots, walking over the bridges in London in the sunshine, eating lunch with my friends in the work canteen, pub gardens…
I wouldn’t say I miss these things on a daily basis, instead it might be something ridiculous which will set off a wave of nostalgia. In those black moments, I will conveniently forget that if I were to turn the clock back, I probably would’ve been too cold, too wet or too overworked to really appreciate those things anyway. That pub garden wouldn’t be so great in the rain, wearing five layers, huddled under an umbrella….
At the weekend, I walked past a display of M&S’ Percy Pigs in a shopping centre in Singapore and burst into floods of tears. The Frenchman looked at me like I’d gone slightly batty (that probably wasn’t an incorrect assumption, I was crying over some sweets). I was always a take it or leave it kind of girl when it came to those sweets, so it wasn’t like I had been yearning daily for the last 6 months for M&S’ delicious, sweet, fruity, chewy, wonderfully moreish concoction… (ahem, where was I?). Rather, it was just that the sight of something so familiar, so comforting, so completely and utterly British, filled me with an enormous longing.
Except for once, it actually wasn’t ruled by my stomach (though of course, we bought the sweets).
And that’s how it goes: just a song, a smell, a phrase, a photo…… in one brief moment, something utterly trivial can overwhelm you with a sadness that you can’t quite define. That split second can comprise a hopeless desire to be in more familiar surroundings, utter desperation in missing loved ones, guilt at being so far away and also an immense gratitude that your life has taken you to where you are now.
The French don’t say ‘I miss you’, they say ‘you are missing from me’ and I think that’s a better way to explain it. To me, homesickness has a physical feeling: it's just below my sternum, a pulling sensation in my chest, almost like my body likes me to imagine what I'm missing as a physical hole inside. Seeing those little pink sweets opened up a little chasm inside and I just simply wanted to go ‘home’.
Though that in itself poses a problem: my family, my older friends, they are in the UK. My husband, my work, my flat, my new friends: they are in Singapore. So how do I define where ‘home’ is now?
Quite simply, ‘home’ is now scattered all over the world.
I like to think of life as a jigsaw puzzle, except it’s not one of those where you will always have the corners, be able to find all the straight edges and patiently slot in all the remaining pieces to form a perfect, pretty picture.
As my life changes, so does the puzzle: I discover new places, new experiences, new friends, new atmospheres, new foods, new ways of life and with them I find new pieces to add to my jigsaw. Unfortunately, at the same time, the price of having these new pieces means some of my original pieces are taken away and I miss them dearly. However, if I were to go back to retrieve the older pieces, I would lose the new pieces and I would miss those too. Sometimes it feels unfair, but then I realise I can’t have my cake and eat it. My life is wonderful.
Those missing pieces are holes that unfortunately can't be 'plugged' with new experiences: the new pieces, like the old ones, are all unique. You can't and shouldn't try to replace what you miss with something new. Instead, you keep expanding your horizons for new things to enjoy, but you never forget what was left behind.
You can't replace the bond of a parent and child, so why would you try? Your childhood home will have memories you can’t recreate elsewhere, what makes people think that an exotic beach is better or equal to that? The enjoyment you get from one is completely different to the other. New friends don't replace old ones, they have their own blessings- you make new memories with them that old friends wouldn't understand. Just like your new friends will never understand those ridiculous in-jokes you have with someone you’ve known for the past 15 years.
Maybe if you are lucky, your jigsaw puzzle pieces will stay as a perfect picture. However, equally, perhaps my puzzle was never meant to be complete and perfect? Instead I like to think of it as an impossipuzzle. As I go through life it gradually gets bigger and bigger, all jaggedy and raggedy edges, abstract, messy and wonderful all at the same time. I hope that by the time I'm finished, my jigsaw puzzle isn't a small neat rectangle, but that it's one heck of a massive creation. Maybe it'll be a big ol' spider spanning the globe. Hell, maybe it'll be a dinosaur. With lots of holes, like a Swiss cheese.
If I was to move back to the UK, I know that there are friends and elements of my daily life here that I would seriously miss. The longer I spend here, the stronger those bonds to my life here grow. If we move from Singapore to somewhere new altogether, I will be ‘homesick’ for people and places all across the world.
And how truly lucky I will be to be so.
When something takes my breath away and I’m hit with that overwhelming desire to be ‘home’, I remind myself of how fortunate I am to have people and places that I miss that much: the amazing people I have known and know now; the things I have done, I am doing, and will do. Every new place, person and experience expands my puzzle a bit more, but you never forget those you left behind, in fact being away just means you appreciate those people more.
No matter how homesick I feel in those moments, I know I wouldn’t change our life for anything.
So why play it safe with your jigsaw puzzle? If you never to take a leap into the unknown, you will never discover how both equally wonderful and soul destroying it is to be homesick.
Worst comes to worst, you can always take a trip back ‘home’: just bring a big coat, an umbrella and an empty suitcase for all those Percy Pigs :-)