Friday, May 30, 2008

Transcontinental musings

Shaken about the globe, we live out our fractured lives. Enticed or fleeing, we re-form ourselves, taking on partially the coloration of our new backgrounds. Even our tongues are alienated and rejoined - a multiplicity that creates richness and confusion.
Vikram Seth, Two Lives, Chapter 4.7

Three sentences that capture the very essence of what it means to shift your life from the country of your birth to one far away; that feeling of being at once both at home and a stranger. The way you can live there for twenty years and still remain in some ways apart, yet when you return home you find you have yourself become foreign and long for the familiarity of your adopted home. These feelings are not linear, they bend forwards and backwards, curving over and through themselves from day to day, year to year, moment to moment.

I have lived in this country not of my birth but of my choosing for my entire adult life. While in many ways I still feel very American, it would perhaps be more correct to say that I am in fact Anglo-Israeli, that peculiar breed of Israeli raised in an English-speaking country, neither fish nor fowl. Someone who craves the veneer of polite civility found in the United States while at the same time belittling its hollow ring. Someone who craves the variety of opportunities available there, but knowing of the sacrifices they would require and unwilling to make them.

While I have to admit to myself that I'd like to enjoy some of the material advantages that come with living in the States, there is so much I'd have to give up. As strange as it may sound to those of you who don't live here I feel safe in my daily life, far from the frightening and often sensationalized headlines which clog international news media. I don't worry about someone kidnapping my child, or carjackings, or muggings. I don't have the constant clanging of Amber alerts to ensure that fear carves a permanent groove into my psyche. Children here still enjoy a level of independence which has all but disappeared from American cities and towns. My son has already asked why he will be given less freedom when we visit the United States in August, and I found myself casting about for answers that would not unduly frighten him while still trying to impress upon him the need for vigilance and caution.

My language too has changed. I am and will always be a native English speaker, most at ease in my mother tongue, but now that tongue is peppered with strange sounding foreign words which often leap from its tip almost of their own volition. Some concepts are easily explained in one language while in the other the words fail, with the odd result of leaving me strangely tongue-tied in two languages.

There is no question, my core is and will always be American, it is who I am and the value system that created me, but after twenty years - all of my adult life - in this strange and wonderful land, there is another layer - a layer almost as deep, whose roots bury deeper and deeper with each passing year.

I am living this multiplicity. I cannot be one without the other. I do not want to. The whole is infinitely greater than the two halves, and even more deeply rooted. It is who I am.

20 comments:

Becca said...

You've expanded just beautifully on the quote from Seth. This post was particularly interesting to me, since my daughter in law was raised in Thailand and has made America her home, so is going through this process as well (but in reverse from you). You've helped me gain a different perspective on her experience.

Granny Smith said...

I have felt this tension between America and Brazil, the second country of my heart. When we were living there I was homesick for America. When we came home (yes, America is our permanent home) I missed Brazil with its clean sidewalks and safety for children who could wander freely.

I haven't been back to Brazil for many years, and I am told it has changed. Less safe. More prosperous. How sad!

Thank you for your thought-provoking post.

~Virginia~ said...

i like this post! good perspective.

Reiza said...

What a great entry! I often find myself wondering what it's like for someone who grew up in the States to move to Israel.

Your explanation here was great.

tjhirst said...

Interesting duality of feelings. Your perspective is so valuable to see what life in Israel is in a day-to-day existence. Likewise, the lack of freedom for children in the United States that you express is probably also influenced a bit by media reports, where people live, and the self-isolation that can come through too many structured activities for our children.

laughingatchaos said...

Well said. I've often wondered what it would be like to live overseas with kids. How different it would be and how my family would react. I can see how you'd be a person with two homes, two loves. In a small way, I feel like that now. I'm not a native Coloradan (trust me, this can be an issue out here), but I don't feel that the Chicago area is home anymore. Home is where I find myself with my family, I guess.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Beautiful essay, my friend.

anthonynorth said...

I can identify, here, in a way, if the other way round. I was born and bred in a rural community. Then I left, and lived in many different places for some 30 years, before returning to that same rural community.
I doubt I'll ever leave again, but I don't think I'm truly back. I'm something else.

Ratchet said...

This is really beautifully written, and I love the way you interpreted the prompt into your writing. Lovely.

planetnomad said...

Yes. You've beautifully captured this expatriate/immigrant feeling.
Great post, Robin.

danni said...

wonderfully unique perspective on the prompt - loved it!

Kamsin said...

I love this quote from Vikram Seth and I love your post too! As I contemplate spending a significant part, if not the rest, of my adult life in a foreign country I can totally relate!

Shermanim said...

Wow! You said it so perfectly. I loved ever word of your essay because my heart was wanting to say many of the same things. Thanks. I feel that I am in between two worlds, but leaning heavily toward the second. A citizen of two cultures but loving the unified one it has created in me.

paisley said...

Someone who craves the veneer of polite civility found in the United States while at the same time belittling its hollow ring.

for me this one sentence summed it up.. even those of us that are still here and have never moved to another country are feeling this more and more every day... this was just excellent...

Lis Garrett said...

What a truly magnificent post, Robin. It's difficult for me to fully understand what you mean, only because I have lived in the United States my entire life. But perhaps, on some small level, your feelings are akin to how a person feels anytime she moves away from home, even when it's across the state line. We've been talking recently about possibly making the transition from our small liberal college town to a bigger conservative city. While I would be returning to my birth city, it would still feel foreign to me. For all intents and purposes, Ithaca is my home.

keith hillman said...

Robin, this is such an interesting piece. Although I lived overseas for a few years I never really became intigrated in the way you have. My grandchildren aged 2 and 4are being raised in the Emirates. I will carry your words in my mind when I next visit later this year.

Lea said...

Because of you... I have a taste, a snippet of what it is like living in Israel... of the everyday goings on of your living in the forefront of your two worlds and sharing how they both color the way you see the world, and what has meaning for you...

Christine said...

Beautifully written Robin. I can only imagine living in a country, so different from your homeland. I found it very interesting to read your thoughts and feelings about having to adapt to a new culture, and a new way of living.

I started laughing about speaking in a new tongue. Having lived in Mexico for even as short as a month, and needing to learn a new language, I find myself, even now some ten years later, sprinkling my words. They just pop out of nowwhere, and my children look at me like what did you just say!?

About the lack of my children's freedom, compared to how it was when I was growing up, truly saddens me. I try to give them opportunities to offset, not being able to walk to the park, or mall, or even just to the corner store alone for a soda, without fearing for them.

Again, beautiful post, Robyn.

Pieces of Me said...

Well, I don't need to tell you you brought me closer to home and through this post you've transplanted me across the Atlantic ocean and back

I am grateful to have read your insights while I'm on the journey

There is so much about this post that I identified with (and loved) and there is so much still left to finalize - you've given me some "pieces" for thought

for
this
I
thank
you

texasblu said...

My husband lived in Italy for two years, and although he wants to take us there to live for a few more, America will always be home. As for the being afraid for our children, the media sensationalizes things, and the only way fear can bind you is if you let it.