Hers is a song of nostalgia, of the passionate longing for home, as the following refrain – one of several – articulates:
I haven’t lived in this place
Haven’t been able to realize my old age
Have been yearning for home
Oh, you beautiful Crimea
I don’t know how many of you have been born outside the United States, neither do I have any insight into whether you miss your birthplace – no matter where it is. As some or maybe all of you already know (About), I was born and raised in Turkey and lived there until the age of twenty-four. Although, my move to North America is not about a migrant’s story, an opinion page in New York Times on immigrants and the overall global trend to leave home recently got my attention. Unlike some other articles I had encountered over the thirty-six years I lived and worked in the States, the treatment of this issue by Dr. Susan J. Matt , a professor of history at Weber State University – and the author of Homesickness: An American History , is psychology-based. The facts, figures and statistics, I will leave behind. Should the topic appeal to your interest, you can easily locate the source (in my blog roll).
Based on her “nearly a decade’s research” on the subject, Prof. Matt first informs us in “The New Globalist Is Homesick” as follows: “The global desire to leave home arises from poverty and necessity, but it also grows out of a conviction that such mobility is possible.” She then adds that “it also has high psychological costs” and that “many people who leave home in search of better prospects end up feeling displaced and depressed.” Foremost important to me on a personal level is what she states next: “Few speak openly of the substantial pain of leaving home.” We learn from her article how in the 19th century “[s]tories of the devastating effects of homesickness were common [… (e.g.] ‘Victim of Nostalgia: A Priest Dies Craving for a Sight of his Motherland.”) What the article highlights next is, to me, a first-time fact: “Today, explicit discussions of homesickness are rare, for the emotion is typically regarded as an embarrassing impediment to individual progress and prosperity. This silence makes mobility appear deceptively easy.”
Here, I invite us to pause briefly in order to get into my head, approximately three decades ago: At a time, when I was craving to be back home. My mother was the main reason for my longing, along with my youth love I had left behind. With the exception of my letters to her and a few jotted notes, I, too, had kept my silence about the deeply rooted ache I used to feel. With my mother’s death, my letters also vanished. As for those scattered notes, I may eventually find them during another move, whenever that may happen. Imagine now, if you please, my conditions to leave my home country as opposed to those Matt analysed: There was no necessity for me to leave my home country. I left to pursuit my passion to further my studies. Poverty was not an issue, either. Still, during my first years here, I experienced feelings of immense loss.
“Technology also seduces us into thinking that migration is painless [,]” writes Matt and argues: If today’s ways of rapid communication “could truly vanquish homesickness and make us citizens of the world, Skype, Facebook, cellphones and e-mail would have cured a pain that has been around since ‘The Odyssey’.” She also announces: “Homesickness continued to plague many who migrated.” Her argument finds support in her own research of the Archives of General Psychiatry, regarding, for instance, the “rates of depression and anxiety” among “Mexican immigrants in the United States” being “40 percent higher than nonmigrant relatives remaining in Mexico. A wealth of studies have documented that other newcomers to America also suffer from high rates of depression and ‘acculturative stress’.” Matt ends her findings by stressing how limited “the cosmopolitan philosophy” is: “The idea that we can and should feel at home anyplace on the globe is based on a worldview that celebrates the solitary, mobile individual and envisions men and women as easily separated from family, from home and from the past. But this vision doesn’t square with our emotions, for our ties to home, although often underestimated, are strong and enduring.”
On a personal level, I admit to a realization at this stage in my life how strong and enduring my ties to home have, in fact, been. When I say home, it is not even my birthplace I speak of. It is, rather, that of my mother and of seven generations on her family side. When the name alone comes up – Sinop, the small harbor town that housed Diogenes, I face the oddest phenomenon of my entire life so far: A primal urge to be there. Since I can’t, I have scenario-rich dreams about it; I composed one, to me one of my most illustrious and longest but also most meaningful poems for it; I lived the most exhilarating three-and-a-half months of my life in it; I mourned and continue to mourn the loss of my mother’s inheritance from it. I have even gone to such extent to add to my living will for my ashes to be spread to its sea.
I believe to no longer underestimate my ties to home – the way I had been for long , neither do I undermine the fact how strong and enduring that connection can be. As if our umbilical cord is still attached not only to our mothers but to our birthplaces at large as well.
I now end here with the hope that you will come back, perhaps even with your own story of leaving home, or, just because. Before I do, however, I want to give you “Sinop Aşkı” (“Love of/for Sinop”), a short video (4:37) with still images of the town, accompanied by modern Turkish Folk music. The second video is a longer and live introductory piece in English (25:16). We have started with a music piece. Why not end on one.
I very much look forward to your next visit.