I had a lovely walk in the park this evening. It brought me back ‘home’.
They say that the first 15 years of someone’s life are instrumental to the formation of a person’s identity. After that, it doesn’t really matter anymore where you live or grow up; your comfort zone has been established, and you will forever feel most at ease in that society.
You can move, and grow and live all your life somewhere else; but that very early beginning will always feel like ‘home’. Your (cultural) identity is set for life. The sounds and scent of a season, a particular way light falls at a certain time of day, the color of the environment, the taste of food and candy; it all becomes part of you.
That doesn’t mean you do not learn to adopt or even appreciate a new environment and/or culture; quite the contrary. I – for instance – much prefer the Lebanese thunderstorms. They are much more impressive than the Dutch ones. Food and the weather (most of the time) are also acquired tastes (in my case). It just means that sometimes you encounter situations that bring you back ‘home’, because they are so similar to what you grew up in.
A friend of mine in Holland is contemplating moving back to the small village he grew up in, on account of the smell in the evenings. It’s the musty smell of decomposing leaves, black soil and cold air that he grew up with that formed him; now, in his forties, he wants it back in his life. This is what ‘home’ constitutes for him.
Lebanon is as different from Holland as you could possibly imagine. The lack of water (although you wouldn’t say so right now with the rain) and the color green is probably the starkest difference, but small details like the dissimilarity of humidity, and weather, also make this country so unlike the one I grew up in. Lebanon is my acquired home, but it is not ‘home’ (if you know what I mean).
But sometimes, even after 20-something years in Lebanon, now and then I encounter moments that are totally Dutch to me. Fall, for instance, especially when experienced in the mountains, is probably what most often reminds me of ‘home’.
This evening I went for a walk in my favorite (and secret) park up in the mountains. It was dark, it was foggy and wet, I walked beneath the dripping trees, through piles of leaves, and the orange light of street lights lit the path. There were no sounds of cars, generators or people, and for the brief moment of my walk, it was as if I was walking in Holland. It is not that I was homesick, not in the least bit, but I find it powerful that the first fifteen years of a person’s life can make such a lasting impression, that after so many years in a country, a situation can transport you back so vividly.
In my case, my exile was a self chosen one. Holland is my ‘home’, but I much prefer my acquired home. Yet going back ‘home’ for a brief moment, is always nice.
On another note, this summer I experienced a most unusual thunderstorm in Holland: so violent and long-lasting that for a moment, I felt like I was in Lebanon. And that felt good too.