”The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.’’ Gilbert K. Chesterton
Where to start?
Now that my body has wandered past the numbed point of other-side-of-the-world jet lag, I need to write, I need to think about belonging. Guilt won’t let me sleep. And yet, I wonder, which thought to pin down and explore, to open up and discover, to let air like a long bottled Saint-Emilion?
This blog on belonging, this collection of ideas, which started out as a personal journey into whether I could make myself feel I belong in Australia, is taking on a broader shape.
It’s still about what I can do to make myself feel connected here to this foreign land, but also becoming more about what other people need to feel they belong. This is what I’ve been thinking about for my two weeks in Canada. This is what I’ve been talking about with strangers at the bus stop and on the plane and at airports. This is what happens when you travel: it broadens the spirit and opens the mind.
And let’s not forget the original reason I went to Toronto: to stay with my friend who’s recovering from surgery. She is a fighter, if an impatient one, and I could see healing and progress in her movements every day. At first I wondered whether I was even needed: her husband, who is also a very good friend of mine, is a wonderful cook and very capable. I had thought I would be needed for housekeeping and laundry and shopping and I did do those things but what I was perhaps needed for most of all was company.
Because we spent so much time together talking and sharing and giggling, I felt connected and needed and loved. Simply being together meant a frustrating period of pain and recovery for my friend became much more than that. It became a happy memory for both of us.
For me, it was a time a connecting and reconnecting. After living in France, the UK and now Australia, I felt for the first time a deep desire to know my first country. I feel like I had turned my back to Canada and now I want to know it and understand it. To connect with the place it is now and its people. I want to know its writers, its artists, and if not perhaps some of the politicians, at least its politics.
Maybe this is something I’ve matured into. My pathway is different to most people in that I left Canada right after university. Looking back from the height of almost half a century, I see now that my coming of age years, most of my 20s, were spent in France, learning to be French. Then I left my French ex-husband and I went to Toronto to regroup, to be with family. That’s when I met my friends I mention above. But I could not stay still. As soon as I could orchestrate a move I was off to the UK.
I’ve learned about France and the UK and Australia and continue to do so, but now I also want to learn about Canada. Returning to that place I once called home has opened up something in me I didn’t see before.
”I’m not sure,’’ I told her, ”but what I do feel is at ease.’’