Saturday, 14 November 2015

Finding Home: My Odyssey

I love this city. It’s where I launched my career, where I met my husband, where I bought my first house.  I have lived here more than half my life.  But does that mean Toronto is home?

Or is home the place I grew up, deep in the mountains in the southeastern interior of British Columbia? Where I went to high school. Where I returned every summer during university. Where my mother still lives. Where I spend time as often as is logistically and financially feasible.

My official home address is in one of the most densely populated and diverse neighbourhoods in Canada’s largest city. The home of my youth is two plane-rides away, in a part of BC that defines the word “remote." The closest airport is Castlegar, known to the flying public as Cancel-gar, because it’s surrounded by mountains and frequently socked in by thick clouds.   
Slocan Lake, British Columbia

When the weather’s right, the plane descends though a narrow valley, through scenery that takes your breath away. From there, there's still a two-hour drive up the Slocan valley to the family homestead.  In good weather, it takes twelve hours to get from one home to the other.  In bad weather it can take up to four days. My husband has often reminded me that it takes him much less time to get to England to see his family than it does for me to get from point A to point B within Canada.  I’ve taken perverse pride in the fact that getting home is such hard work.  Somehow, it makes it feel more special.

But that is not how I feel today. I’m sitting on a Greyhound bus, after two days of impenetrable fog cancelled all flights out of Castlegar airport. Five hours on the bus, then a plane ride from Kelowna to Vancouver, followed by a cross-country red-eye flight to Toronto.  Right now, I’m envying friends whose home is all in one place—or at least, have their family within a one-day drive.  At times like this, my life feels fractured and complicated-- my disparate and far-apart worlds seem hard to juggle and reconcile.   

On the Bus
All these hours on the bus give me time to think. It’s making me ponder what “home” really means.  Is it where we live as adults? Is where we grew up?  Is it the place with the most poignant memories?   If the definition of home can be so conflicted for me, a first-generation Canadian, what must it be like for recent refugees and immigrants?  Is this conflict more common in a country like Canada, where so many of us are newcomers in one way or another?

These days, I'm wondering whether my split-home issues may, in fact, be full-blown multiple-home disorder.  A Danish cousin emailed me recently, saying, "Denmark is your home, even though you have never actually lived here."

A bit of context:  My dad’s eldest sister recently died in Denmark. Like most of my extended family, my Auntie Gerda lived near the North Sea on the windswept coast of Jutland.  I only saw her ten times in my life.  But when Gerda died, I wrote her eulogy in Toronto, even though she had 11 other Danish nieces and nephews living nearby.

My cousin’s email referred to the fact that my Canadian family had tighter bonds with Auntie Gerda than those who remained in Denmark. That's because my parents never lost touch, and always made the effort to bridge the distance with letters, Christmas parcels, phone calls, and a few precious pilgrimages back to the "old country."

My cousin is right. Denmark is home too.  My ancestral home.   Her observation underscores the fact that home is about so much more than residing in a physical place. 

Multiple homes expand our horizons-- make us more versatile and adaptable.  I believe it has made me a better journalist and story-teller.  And it has helped me begin to understand what it means for so many Canadians, who have uprooted their lives in other parts of the world to make this country home. 

I know it’s a privilege to have so many homes in my life.   But it’s also the manifestation of a restless soul, and a need to explore the true meaning of this deceptively simple word. The odyssey begins.

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