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Longing for Home

Joy and Matthew Steem

Homesickness - Rene Magritte

Homesickness - Rene Magritte

I remember the first time I experienced the blunt heaviness of homesickness: the pulsing desire to return to the place of belonging, to people who care, and an environment that’s safe. I was in grade two and had been away from my family for about five days at a non-profit kid’s camp a few hours away. Curiously, the wumping of homeward ache didn’t hit me until after arriving at my friend’s house, where I awaited mom to pick me up. Suddenly, less than half an hour from home, the telltale symptoms of loneliness started leaking out my eyes. I remember my friend’s gentle dad leaving a message on my parents’ machine, “come whenever you can, I think someone is quite homesick.”

Until my mom came about an hour later, my tears did not abate. I don’t remember a particularly strong sense of relief enfolding me in my bed that night, but I do remember the tsunami of emotion that crushed me that afternoon. I wanted home. In part, because I knew what home meant. I knew what I missed.

As we get older, I think we experience homesickness a little less frequently. In part, the rotation of our days becomes swifter as a result of the accumulation of responsibilities we bear. As each day whirls by maybe we see home more as a place of responsibility than retreat from the burdens of the everyday. Part of me wonders if our insatiable thirst for travel comes from our disillusionment with home. A child goes away and feels homesick; an adult is more likely to feel home-weary. 

The apocalyptic indie film Bokeh captures an interesting take on longing for home. Shortly after arriving for a holiday in Reykjavik, protagonists Janai and Riley find themselves inexplicably alone. Streets empty, homes deserted, and internet un-updated, the couple wake up to every clever child’s scariest dream: a completely deserted Disney Land.

The film depicts the spirit of adventure, mystery, and loss. The world is their paradise, but there is no one to share it with, and the smooth running machines set in place by knowing professionals will eventually stop, and there will be nobody to fix them. There are no outside villains or tangible dangers that threaten their life, only the slow advance of overpowering emotional response (spoiler alert).

What does one do when one discovers oneself in a boundaryless world? As there is no one to hurt, no property to trespass, no rights to respect, there are no laws to break. The freedom is suffocating. But their freedom from rules is also freedom from their roots: a maniac freedom they are unprepared for.

Janai longs to go home; and her loss of home results in loss of hope, which ultimately, results in loss of life.

Although we never do learn the details of Janai’s home, we understand her longing for connection with the people she loves, the places she knows, we see the implicit ache of what that longing is like. The message is poignant—who are we when we’re cut off from our sense of home? And what is home, anyways? In a culture that seems to fetishize a sense of rootlessness, a wayfaring mentality, the isolated lone ranger, a wildly disordered individuality, I wonder what have we lost in our understanding of home? Perhaps we should consider that a lack of homesickness may indicate a lack of healthy roots.