I love departures. Not because I can’t wait to leave or because I can’t wait to get to the next place, but because departure is always caught between the hold of a place and the pull of road.
As the train rolls out of the station or as the ship leaves the harbour, I look longingly at the familiar lie of the land, at the streets and people and spaces that have become so familiar. I want to stay a little longer, savour the pleasures I am farewelling. But I am also filled with excitement about the journey begun, new places to see, chance encounters to experience, unexpected turns to negotiate.
The deep enjoyment of leaving is found precisely in this tension. Even more, the ability to appreciate a place, fully and deeply, depends on the fact that I know I will leave. It may be today or it may be weeks, months or even years down the track. But I will leave. And so I look at the placei which I am differently, feel the undertow of my emotions. Experiences – people met, vistas pondered, quiet corners – gain an intensity that is missing from the ordinary run of life.
But I also wonder what it is like to live in the same place for the whole of one’s life. I recall a conversation with an older woman, a grandmother of many. Hearing that I was leaving, yet again, she was absolutely fascinated at distant and exotic places.
‘I’ve never been much of traveller’, she said. ‘I have travelled on a couple of occasions – went down south for the Melbourne Cup, but that was enough’.
I have also tried to imagine what it was like for my parents and grandparents to make that crucial decision to emigrate half-way around the world. Not so long ago (some 60 years) but it seems like an eternity, for then you made the journey never to return. What would it be like to leave a place, an ancestral home? Some never make the transition fully, longing for what was lost. Some still feel, deep in their bodies, that home is still back there. But others do make the shift, thrilled by the new place, knowing that in but a short time they will have changed too much to return.
What would I have done? I would have emigrated as well.
But where is home? On the road, I feel another tension. It is a type of homesickness, a longing for home, but not in the conventional sense. In each place travelled, I wonder, ‘Could I live here?’ ‘Would this become home?’ In some places, the answer is ‘no way’. But in others, the ‘maybe’ may well shift to a ‘why not?’ To these places I have a tendency to return. Yet, before I get too carried away with such desires, I remind myself that there are too many places in the world like this.
After all, is not home always elsewhere?