Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fear of Home

Preparing for my trip back I recall Thomas Wolfe ‘You Can't Go Home Again', a book I had not read. I did read ‘Look Homeward Angel,’ but somehow I recall the evocative title of his other book, something I always remember for some reason since living abroad for the past 12 years.  Somehow the phrase evokes meaning;  one cannot go back to a previous life after being away for some time.  There is a passage in Wikipedia from the novel that evokes that feeling:

"You can't go back home to your family, back home to your childhood ... back home to a young man's dreams of glory and of fame ... back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory."

I always admired Wolfe because he gets to the heart of things, though for different reasons, he seems to settle on phrases that have universal appeal with timeless meaning, attracting people under different circumstances, who identify with his words.

I discovered Wolfe in the American library in Manila, amazed to find a great writer I never heard before, astounded by his talent, reminiscent of Walt Whitman, but more like Hemingway in his first person narrative, but with a more exuberant, elegant flourish.  On a trip to Asheville, North Carolina a few years ago, I stumbled on his mother’s boarding house while walking the streets during the Belle Cherie festival, separated from my family as we explored the city in its festive reverie.  Discovering Wolfe was always an accident, or happenstance, wandering a city or browsing in a library. Now after changing my citizenship and having not returned home for at least 5 years, the title of his book evokes a certain truth for those who attempt to come back. One also has an irrational fear of returning home, as if death lurks in wait though someday it will, but perhaps my parents who are now in their twilight years, declining in health with the old home decaying and crumbling. I wonder what I can do, the old house barely inhabitable; a place I can no longer live in its present state, let alone my folks.

I changed my citizenship many years ago, leaving the corruption and inefficiency of the homeland, struggling on visas for trips to other countries, preferring the efficiency of one’s adopted country, before moving to the USA. The passport assured my escape, to flee the past and start anew; to leave a place that almost assures that one will not prosper. But one also recalls other difficulties: endless traffic, the robberies at home, the numerous car crashes that luckily had not turned fatal, amazed at one’s luck of having nine lives, plus worker strikes and company shutdowns. In later years, further troubles have occurred: the folly of ones relatives, the decline and mismanagement of finances, the bad luck that seemed to hound the clan’s fortunes. What does one fear? To be engulfed in the shadow of misfortune, the fear of losing what one had gained; a chance to succeed, to have a better life, the possibility of becoming what one dreamed, to live a life one wishes. The paranoid mind creates existential fears, of some bureaucratic foul-up, the machination of some government agency turning against you, the specter of deportation. Far fetch admittedly but the brain’s cognition falters with fear.

One misses the good side, to recover something that was lost, to meet old friends and relatives, to share the brief time left of ones parents, perhaps to make things right. Travel always makes one fearful, perhaps  the plane flight, crossing the ocean, to be above the clouds; the fear of flying, a dread I had long ago when I used to travel frequently, now coming back to  haunt me. Returning home requires you to conquer fears at many levels, to face demons that lurk in the mind, whether valid or not, like ghosts in the darkness of old homes.

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