I’m sure everybody, at one point in time, has experienced the feeling of homesickness. This intense yearning for the place where you know everything maybe even to the point of boredom, but where familiarness means coziness, comfort, and security. I last experienced it a few years ago. And it took me by surprise.
As a child, I was homesick quite often. We were a tight-knit family. We did lots of things together, most often within the range of our federal state, sometimes traveling to another one. Foreign countries were only a couple of hours away. But we wanted to get to know about our own treasures first. So, even a visit with relatives away from my family triggered this yearning for home when I was little.
I remember a school camp in seventh grade when I was utterly devastated. Not only did I have to share a room with four other girls and lacked my usual privacy. The next small-town was a few miles away, and we were not supposed to leave the premises unless we had obtained a special permit. I felt imprisoned, invaded, bewildered. I wanted to go home so badly.
One of our teachers took me for a walk one day – nobody envied me because she was not the most popular teacher. But that afternoon, she gave me the task to take care of an even homesicker girl. And she also let me know that she, too, had her yearnings for her home and her private life. It was an eye-opener. I was not alone. And grown-ups had their issues, too!
Somehow, I managed to overcome my homesickness that year. That teacher helped me by supporting my creative ambitions in our extra-curricular hours at school camp, especially my love for drawing, dancing, and writing poetry. I didn’t become teacher’s pet, mind you. But I knew that even a seemingly tough person had soft spots. Over the years I liked this teacher more and more. She still had her rough edges. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes. But we shared many smiles and even laughter. And I got in touch with her when I had published my first book of poetry at age 25. She had been the first one encouraging my creative writing and having me read it out to others, after all.
Later, journalism took me all over Germany, to quaint corners that, otherwise, I might never have visited at all. And it took me abroad. Mostly alone, never lonesome. Wherever I went, I made myself at home. Home became more and more a place where I laundered and packed my bags again. I enjoyed the trips. I enjoyed coming home. But homesickness?
Ever since living here in Western Washington, I have connected with quite a few Germans in the U.S. Not to the point where I’m looking for them. I’ve always rather coincidentally bumped into them and become friends with a few. Our German roots play into it but are not the main reason. We agree that our mother country has been changing during our absence. It’s not as we remember it, anymore. We talk of nostalgic memories sometimes. Homesickness doesn’t come into it.
My last bout of homesickness occurred actually when I was visiting with family and friends back in Germany about five years ago. I had traveled over alone, as my husband wasn’t able to get time off. And some hackers had been wreaking havoc with airline computers for days and worldwide. The realization came sharp and hard as a blow: I was far away from where I belonged. And suddenly I was scared not just when but whether I’d be able to get back. I had a bout of desperate homesickness. And that’s when it struck me. Home had long become some place else. It rang oh so true that home is where the heart is. And, boy, was I glad when my plane touched down back here in SeaTac again!