My cousin Marie, also quite the globe trotter, tells me that for her, her travels confirm that the place she wants to be is home. As nice as traveling and living abroad is, coming home feels even better. Her comment strikes a chord within me, as I understand what she means, for if there is a recurring feeling I keep having, it’s one of looking forward to coming home.
Except that for me, contrary to my cousin, home doesn’t exist geographically.
There isn’t a place on the planet that feels more or less like a chez moi, an area of a specific longitude and latitude that is definitively me. I find that my home is with my loves, not necessarily within one culture or perspective; my family and friends are spread like the wind across the four corners of the globe, and reuniting them in one locale is like herding cats on catnip.
I, too, pine for a homecoming, a belonging, but mine, out of necessity, has to live within me because, simply put, there isn’t a town or a city with my heart’s name on it. I have the gift of breadth of locales, of playing avatar in different realities, hopping back and forth between this sensibility or that one.
She, however, and like many of my Belgian relatives, have the gift of depth, of knowing that your roots have been yours for generations, and that so long as you are willing, they can be your children’s and your children’s children’s and that if life continues as it has been, your children’s children might just grow up to marry your best friend’s children’s children because they all play field hockey together and rally with the scouts.
Families are tied to a place, to a history, and connecting the dots between them tells their stories, time and time again. It’s not so dissimilar from what I witnessed in India, the family as king, umbilical cord across time and space, and as my cousin Nicolas tells me, “Antwerp is a village, and everyone knows each other.”
I imagine that to be simultaneously comforting and frustrating, supportive and divisive, but like everything in life, it’s never all good or all bad. And, I see it through the lens of my experience, much like people who try to categorize me as either this or that because, I think, it’s easier to place someone in one camp or in another, to classify, sort, assign, than it is to live in the flexible, relative.
It just is, and for whatever reason, I was born into a family destined for another life, elsewhere, and that’s an experience in of itself.
So, here we are, my dad with two of his best pals, one of whom is his cousin, his children my cousins, and together, we celebrate the coming of Christmas in Knokke-Zoute, a North Sea town where I do, indeed, have roots and where I’ve spent the majority of my time in Belgium, frolicking in the frigid ocean, a must do, building chateau forts, making paper flowers, buying firecrackers with my other Van Doo cousins to put into Bonpapa Dauwe’s cigars.
Off to play pétanque, where Papa and I take on Guy and Daniel, and where I, inevitably, send the cochonet flying out of the arena with my bowlingesque stance. No matter, as it is absolutely hysterical, and interestingly enough, I find my opponents strangely supportive every time my turn rolls around.
Before we depart for Brussels, Nicolas tells me that, faire des enfants est le plus beau cadeau que tu puisses donner a tes parents (having kids is the best present you can ever give your parents), and like the clouds parting, I get it, this progression of the lifeline, the bloodline, of living for someone, something grander than you, of preservation, continuity, cohesion. It’s a beautiful sentiment, creating something for a community, for your family, knowing that you live for beyond just yourself.
With that, un tres grand merci et tres joyeux Noel to you all, Guy, Colette, Nicolas, Manon, Marie, Thierry, Prutsi, Daniel, and Papa. C’etait genial.