“You can’t go home again.” – Thomas Wolfe
It’s a phrase that turns around in many a long-term expat’s mind, particularly when a trip “home” is on the horizon. For most of us, going “home” is a deeply emotional experience, and no two visits back are ever the same.
This time, I was on a mission to clean out a storage shed that has held my things since I moved to Italy in 2003. Most of it was household-type stuff that I didn’t want to have to buy again had I decided to move back, but there was also a lot of personal items — photos, ticket stubs, memories of a time long, long ago from when I was a different person entirely, or at least that’s how it felt.
In a word? Exhausting. And not just physically.
Sure, you can go home again, but you’re not going to be the same.
And because you’re not the same, nothing is the same. And yet nothing has changed, and you can find yourself slipping right back into old patterns and habits and roles faster than a trip through Passport Control and Customs, and you’re left wondering whether you’re the new you or the old you or someone in between.
Sometimes I think the hardest part about being an expat are these visits “home,” when your emotions are pulled in a million different directions — to the past remembering your long-gone loved ones that somehow still exist back “home” in your mind, to the present where you’re left out of personal jokes that have arisen since you’ve left, to the future where you know it’s unlikely that you’ll be a part of your loved ones’ important moments because the distance just makes it impossible.
For all the romantic notions people have about being an expat, that emotional push-and-pull is the most severely underestimated.
And forgive the cliché, but the only way out is through.
You either push forward in your expat life or you move “home,” and surely neither decision is going to feel 100% correct 100% of the time, but since when are we 100% sure of anything 100% of the time?
I know I’m not. You just move on through.
One thing I am sure of, though, is that purging parts of my past life felt so, so good. To my inner packrat’s surprise, physically letting go of so many *things* that simply aren’t part of the life I’ve chosen in southern Italy was much easier than I thought it would be — I can’t even tell you how many bags of garbage there were, although most of my *things* were either sold at yard sales or donated.
So yes, while my trip to the U.S. left me physically and emotionally drained, it has also guided me back to center — now that I’ve allowed myself some time to recover.
My recalibration after the trip “home” has been the most rewarding part of all.
Yesterday, P and I went for a long, winding ride on the scooter into the mountains for some relief from the heat. During those few hours with the sun kissing my (sunscreened!) shoulders, the cool air whipping past us, and the crisp water from a mountain spring dribbling down my chin, I started to reconnect with my life here.
At that spring, I sat quietly for a few moments, simply appreciating where I’ve come from and all the places I’ve been while simultaneously acknowledging that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Here. Right now.
I emerged from that ride with a refreshed mind, body, and spirit; I don’t ever want to forget how powerful the act of letting go can be, whether it’s letting go of things or emotions or simply of myself, allowing my mind to just be empty for a while.
So is Wolfe right?
Maybe, but all I know is that I’m so very happy I got to go “home” again — and to be home again. And that’s enough for me. Here. Right now.
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