Sometimes when I’m alone in the serenity of my beloved beach house, I get to thinking about the choices I’ve made in my life. With few exceptions, everything I have undertaken, whether successful or not, has brought me closer to the ideals I’ve sought for myself since childhood. In speaking about the unusual paths I’ve followed since finishing high school in 1984, I say: ‘Had I not gone to Belgium, I wouldn’t be in Sydney today’. Those who know me well understand my shorthand manner of expressing how I got from there to here.
Occasionally, in those solitary moments of reflection, I flick through the pages of my life and pause on those spikes of excitement that make me realise what I chose at that time was right for me. Those are the moments that I feel homesick.
To many, homesickness refers to that state of longing for the place one felt most comfortable and happy. Perhaps it’s one’s hometown one hasn’t visited in many years. Perhaps it’s the seaside village where one met one’s first love during the summer in between school years. Perhaps it’s even a person one loved most who always provided a sense of comfort that one could call home.
Homesickness also implies a sadness in the place one finds oneself now, where the friends aren’t as easy to come by or the city doesn’t provide the options one would like. For me, however, homesickness is not a lament or even a longing. It’s an affirmation that I have lived my life to the fullest so far. It’s also a recognition that the people and places I have left behind have marked me in immeasurable ways.
When I think of Milwaukee, the city of my birth, I feel homesick for the house I grew up in and the many good years I had there as a child. It’s the high school where I came of age and the old friends who still live there. It is also the place I knew I would leave someday, for even as a child, the city proved too provincial for my own ambitions.
As for Québec City, I feel homesick for the adventurous spirit I encountered in the people I knew there. I feel an honour in having mastered their unique brand of French - reviled by some but absolutely cherished by me. When I want a reminder of the young man I was as a university student, I put on a playlist of my favourite Québécois songs and again I am there, trudging through the snowy, sludgy streets of the city.
And then there’s Phoenix, that hot, dry and sprawling place where I found my first real love. He is still there, of course, soldiering on with his life just as I am in my current home. To me Randy is Phoenix, so all I need to do to feel that homesickness for my old desert paradise is to think of the great things we did together. Yes, it can even put a lump in my throat, but a lump of fondness, not regret.
Today, when people ask me if I miss home, I say yes, of course I do. Then I describe the exhilaration of flying back into Sydney and seeing the Opera House from above. All my new memories come rushing back to me and I smile to myself. I am home.