Nostalgia: The Pain of Leaving Home
I’ve been thinking a good bit these past years, and especially these past months, about our attachments and relationships to place. Or the lack of it. I’ve been thinking about the connections between “nature deficit disorder” and what I call placelessness, and wondering about the spiritual, psychological and emotional impact those disconnects have caused us.
So a few Sundays ago, when the minister described the Prodigal Son’s emotional state in his rebellion as “homesick”, the word resonated. I wrote it down on the folded paper I always keep in a pocket. I’ve only just now started working my way through how that familiar word may teach me something about how we bond–or fail to or pretend to not need to form attachments –with the landscapes of our lives.
And the first factoid comes from language, not surprisingly. The term nostalgia derives from the Greek “nostos” for leaving home; and -algia, the Latin for pain. The Pain of Leaving Home. We’ve extended the meaning to any wistful emotion-laden remembrance tinged with longing or regret.
I don’t really have time right now to take this rabbit trail, but thought I needed a place-marker to come back to, which is what the blog is turning out to be. So here’s a start towards following homesickness to see what it can tell me about the ways our health, in all its dimensions, is affected by our relationships to the places we call home.
According to Susan Matts, author of Homesickess: An American History, homesickness is “un-American.” Don’t fence me in. The rugged American. Route 66.
“Adults in modern America have learned to repress overt expressions of homesickness, for it has come to connote immaturity, a lack of ambition, and failure. It is out of step with the ethos of modern capitalism, which prizes mobility and individualism.”
“…mobility has in fact never been an innate trait of Americans. Instead, they had to learn to leave home, and they have still not completely mastered the art of rugged, restless individualism.
How would it impact our collective mental health if, instead of denial, we embraced the ties that bind us to place, home, nature and community? What have we lost in our urgency to a “free” and placeless people? If nostalgia is the pain of leaving home, we’ll need a word for the pleasure of finding it again.
And I wonder if we can be “nostalgic” for places we’ve never been, for homes we’ve never had, but long to find.
Have you ever been homesick? What did it teach you about yourself? Where youÂ embarrassedÂ or shamed by the experience?