Traveling down the Missouri highway during my trip through the US, I heard an intriguing interview with author Susan J. Matt, who studied homesickness as it presented itself in American history. Given my own history with the topic, I listened with interest as she described the country’s history with homesickness.
Something she said struck deep, resonating with me, and something I’m sure so many of us who’ve moved realize as well. Talking about the relation of homesickness and nostalgia, she says:
“…Increasingly people discover that they really can’t go home again and that’s kind of the basis of our modern sense of nostalgia. I think technology had a lot to do with that when you could take the steamship home and go to your village and realize that it had changed during your absence, or you had changed during your absence…or taken the Transcontinental Railroad home and see that your little town in Massachusetts wasn’t what you remembered. People realized they couldn’t go home again and that became this new sense of nostalgia that what people are longing for today is a lost past and home is located somewhere in that past, but it’s irretrievable. In contrast, the homesick want a lost place that they can go back to, it’s only a gulf of geography that separates them, whereas the nostalgic is separated by a gulf of time.” ~Susan J. Matt, To The Best of Our Knowledge interview
Deep inside, I knew that once I left home, it would never be the home I remembered. I experienced this when I left for college; upon returning for Thanksgiving, I was struck by how different things were.
Despite my homesickness, part of what I missed was something that could never be retrieved—the inevitable flow of time had worn away at the ways of my childhood home. Although the people I love and the places I held dear remained, I already knew there was no going back to the place I remembered.
And yet, knowing things will change, regardless of whether we’re there or not, is almost welcome. Life for everyone we know doesn’t stop when we leave, or remain frozen until we return. Life continues, and we don’t have to be afraid to miss it, since we’re experiencing it ourselves.
Even if it isn’t in our old beloved haunts.
Marisol Dunham has been a freelance writer since 2007, and now lives with her once long-distance boyfriend in Australia. An American wandering the bush, she writes about her life and writing ventures on her blog at http://www.madunham.com/. You can find her on Twitter at @maridunham.