It’s now been a little over a year since I moved to Japan. The year has simultaneously crawled and flown. If someone told me that I’ve only been in Japan for a month, I might believe them. That’s how unfamiliar it still feels to me sometimes.
For the first time in decades, I’m beginning to understand what it means to have a sense of place and a sense of displacement from that place. Back when I was 11 years old, I’d moved from my native state of California to Wisconsin. Displacement had become my way of being. For a long time, I didn’t even know what it felt like to not feel displaced.
I guess that feeling must have dissipated in Philadelphia because now I’m relearning homesickness. I’d lived in Philadelphia for 13 years. I haven’t lived in any other place longer.
A few days ago, I was listening to a podcast interview with Salley Vickers (no relation) about the book Miss Garnet’s Angel. While talking about why she’d set the book in Venice, she’d said something like, “Some days, I have woken up and thought to myself that the only thing that would make me feel better would be to go to Venice.”
Before leaving Philadelphia, I would have had no idea what she’d meant by that.
I miss a lot of specific things in Philadelphia, like West Philly Ethiopian food, all sorts of vegan junk food, hiking the Wissahickon, walking the Schuykhill River trail while watching the various university crew teams practice, certain yoga studios, my dance studio, and on and on. Philadelphia has an endless supply of beautiful places. Obviously, I miss my friends more than anything.
However, my homesickness is less about missing specific things and, luckily, the internet provides me with some contact with my friends. My homesickness is more about having a sense of continuity and familiarity. It’s about feeling like my physical location is contributing to my sense of home. Living in Philadelphia, it had taken me a really long time to feel like it contributed to my sense of home. I wasn’t even sure it did until my physical location changed.
The other day, I taught a yoga class here in Japan. Not only had I not taught yoga for over a year, it had nearly been a year since I’d even done yoga. It’s been a rough year for me and I’ve sacrificed a lot of activities to keep my head above water.
As soon as I went back to yoga, I realized that there is more than one way to keep one’s head above water. Instead of floating with my nose barely above the surface and hoping for no waves, I can swim. Doing yoga, even if it does require more energy, is swimming, not floating.
If a yoga flow could be considered a place, then I’ve been living there for 16 years. Going through my series of familiar poses, I found myself in downward dog, staring at my mat for the thousandth time and something inside of my was triggered. I know this place.
Over this past year, I’ve done downward dog a bunch of times, not because I was doing yoga, but because it’s an amazing calf stretch. Out of context, I didn’t recognize it as anything other than a calf stretch. Within the series, inside of the yoga flow, I went into downdog within a context that means something to me. What is place, after all, except where your body resides in space?
I’d also not realized that I’d been homesick until recently. It just hit me all at once. Because I’d grown up hiding the sensation of homesickness from myself, I had automatically hid it from myself, again. Now that I’ve discovered it, I’m grateful. Missing something means that we have had something worth being missed. I couldn’t be happier about that.
By the way, for anyone interested, I have started a another blog that is book reviews only.