Even though I initially intend for my time in Europe to be a refuge from the go, go, go rhythm of the past few months, a quiet oasis where I simultaneously play tourist, find myself a job, and cozy up with people I see entirely too seldomly, I see that what I lack in geographic exploit and explorations, I make up for in forays into my lineage, living and deceased.
This round-the-world trip of mine is really just an outward manifestation of an internal journey, different parts of the world echoes for different aspects of self-realization, the plunge into soul and life purpose as deep as the miles traveled are wide.
Just like my family spans Europe’s francophonia, accents going from the crisp and tight Parisian to the guttural Anversois to the über casual, words-half-swallowed, emphasis on the “ay” Genevois, the facets and roles of family and blood lines and place morph and metamorphosize.
This time, more than any other, I am an unattached observer in these homelands, less wrapped up in the cultural expressions of the single-cheek kissing Belgians, the double-kissing Frenchies, the exuberant triple-kissing Swiss, better adept at reading the influence of culture, familial and terrestrial, a witness to how it takes hold of our eyes and brains, blinders to the left, hot spots to the right.
I see that now, things are as they must be, the forest more important than the trees, seams of people coming together, others pulling apart, overlapping in our circles of karma and intention, each of us patches on the great quilt of life, edges touching, overlapping, contrasting. We are bound by genes, by cycles, by history, and like the Hindu gods, there are as many different incarnations of the same expression of love as a family needs to hold.
Now, here, I am better perched to see and feel how one family ensemble compares to another, how I wear it, when, why, where–which parts to let loose, which ones to fasten, and how and why through the years the Jackie O might just need to give way to Madonna’s conical boobs.
Don’t ask, it’s just how the speculoos crumbles.
Every time I visit my family, I am breathless for sustenance, famished to know and feel and see everything about those with whom I proudly share a heritage. I find this task a perpetual carrot, impossible, I realize, because one cannot compact months into minutes, years into days.
Instead, I find truth in what my aunt eschews, that doing, being is just as important as telling, and that even though we might be separated by thousands of miles and even more days of proximity, there is beauty in repeated exposure, the consistency of growing up and old and starting anew with my cousins’ children in the same place I built sand castles, of riding poneys, then horses.
Family is like the seasons, a spiral of rebirth and long slumber, a sort of bodily home base, if you will, of comfort and knowing, a partage. It is the book of life, living and breathing personifications of aspects of your self-identity, something learned and shared with a discrete group of people entirely yours to love and coddle and hold in curious delight, and by relishing in them, I get to better understand myself and my role here and now.
I learn, too, that the malaise of distance is a gift in somber guise, the peaks of retrouvailles, the plunge of farewells, the valleys of the mundane to pass through body unjudged and unattached. It is most simply put, a reality, not something to lament, celebrate, or change, necessarily, simply a truth, one whose purpose is sometimes crystal clear, other times a murky labyrinth. There is no point in holding on: It’s all ethereal and fleeting, anyways, shape-shifters of identity and meaning depending on vantage points in life and geography.
Family, for me, matters, and I do find the simple act of sharing grandparents and great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents terribly important and telling, each point of unification as real as a city on the map, itself full of stories and history and influence, some of it so subtle, so discrete, it’s barely a whisper.
And, so, now, the close of a continent signals the resolution to a part of a journey, to the acknowledgement of yet another truth, which is that for me, family is as much a place on the globe as it is a place in my being, one I carry wherever I go.