Coming Home: Surviving the crash-landing.

Coming Home: Surviving the crash-landing.

A childhood dream of constant flight became a way of life. Pandemic ended that. Who am I if I am not in motion?

NASA on Unsplash

“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”

James Baldwin

A recurring dream:

I’m strapped into a rocketship. It’s small — a Calvin and Hobbs, interplanetary probe. Just me and the steering wheel.

I’m ready to launch from the front lawn of my home.

My family are gathered to wave goodbye.

I’m impatient.

The rocket fires and I fly. Immediately I’m leaving the atmosphere, entering the darkness of space. I didn’t wave goodbye, so I look back. Home is a pinpoint far below.

I see Mum and Dad. They’re outside the house still, but not waving. They’re talking to each other as if they’ve forgotten me. Their life carries on. There’s no point in waving now. They’ve moved on. They can’t see me.

I turn back to the controls and look beyond them into space.

Indifference.

I’m never going home again.

I’m excited in the dream and also when I wake.

Wrapped in my rocket, I’m safe against the danger and cold. Secure.

I feel determined loneliness.

I had this dream often. I was 11 or 12.

***

My memories of childhood are fragmentary or lost. I’m shocked when people tell in detail of their friends and all the things they did. I remember only sparsely.

I know this dream happened during school holidays though, because I dreamed it in my own bed. Term times, I was sent away to school.School was in the local town – I saw my father every day because he taught there. It was only 7 miles from home to school, but it might as well have been across the universe.

It cost my parents dearly (in many ways) to send me there. It cost me too.

I was 9.

Exiled to unheated dormitories, care, love and safety absent or doled out according to the rules, I made a new home. I replaced connection with protection. Against hostility and threat, I built a thin but robust skin: strong enough to stop me falling to the void, into extinction.My body went home each holiday, but I did not. There was no home. In my dreams, I flew a one-way, endless journey beyond all I could imagine.

***

Often in the holidays, Dad would be at school and Mum asleep, recovering from working night shift in a local nursing home. I’d listen to the radio. Some days The European Broadcasting Union would host ‘concerts from across the continent’: a recital from a church in Malmo, an orchestra from Prague, a brass band from Albania, something rousing from the frozen heart of the Soviet bloc.

Crackling radio bringing a sense of immediate connection. I’d listen quietly, thrilled by the cough of a lone audience member whom I’d never meet. Alone with others. Isolated in my room, I was also, in those moments, at concerts in cities I’d never heard of. I’d imagine so many of us, listening together on small radios, all alone.

***

At 17 my father let me travel to see a friend in Germany. It was before cheap air travel so I went by boat and train. After rattling through the night, I arrived to change trains in Koln at dawn. It made me feel alive again, maybe for the first time, since going to school had killed me.

In a strange city, which had not woken yet, knowing no one, I was home.

Since then, I’ve carried home with me — not as a place but an attitude.

***

For forty years later, I practiced leaving.I travelled endlessly, teaching, directing, forging links obsessively around the world. I passed through airports, sat on planes. Even when ‘home’, I connected with elsewhere.

Remotely.

Constantly.

Communication.

Check messages.

Be busy.

Interconnected and determinedly alone.

A heart attack shocked and slowed me, but I recovered and went to work in Greece. Then India. More plans for Greece. China perhaps. Another trip to India.My recurring childhood dream of flight, practically true.

Be careful what you wish for.

There were people who loved and cared for me, but I lived wrapped in my determined loneliness. Wrapped in my safety skin.

Always leaving with nowhere to go.

***

Then came the pandemic.

I was in India when it hit. I finished a rural, residential workshop near Bangalore and, emerging, found the two final jobs of my trip cancelled. My flight home cancelled too.

I flew to Mumbai, then found a flight to Frankfurt. Then home to England.

Home

Lockdown.

Decades of movement, physical and psychic, ended suddenly. Crash-landed.

I hardly recognised me.

Who am I when I’m still?

Who am I when I’m not the captain and the crew of a solo ship?

Who am I when I step outside my shell?

What is home, if not the attitude that holds at bay the darkness and the cold?

Once again, like my 9 year old, I had to leave behind the things I thought were me.

I had to shed the layers I’d wrapped around me, when I crossed the void to school.

***

How to come home after so many years of flight?

I felt changes before I could name them. Like a frozen river in the spring, deep beneath thick ice, things began to move. I sensed it happening, but not what ‘it’ was.

I felt things.

Many things.

Things long frozen.

Things mixed together – a trickle then a torrent of undifferentiated pain.

Confusion.

Danger.

Warmth. More than warmth — heat. Fire.

Excitement.

Curiosity.

Anger.

That shocked me. It scared me too. I rarely lose my temper and always with great shame.

But I felt anger. It too flowed beneath the ice.

Anger at what? Anger at whom?

Questions.

I felt deep sadness for the ways I have and haven’t tasted life.

Fear.

Always there is fear.

Sometimes, hope: hope diluting loss, leaving me to feel that maybe…. things might… possibly….. just might……. work out.

I feel a calling: to connect. Determined loneliness has kept me safe, but maybe now it’s time to let it go. Perhaps the time is coming when I might listen to the concert in the concert hall, not on a crackling radio from far away.

This new home means feeling ‘things’ — shedding the brittle skin of protection and being naked in the world.Is that what home is? Daring to be at the centre of the web — feeling what there is to feel, being who I dare to be?

Home is not a place or attitude.

Home is a network of connection and responsibility.

When sent away to school, I lost what I knew and built home from what I found around me.

In pandemic, stripped of what I know, again I find discarded bits, and build from them a place to live in now.

Perhaps home is simply this — to live in this moment, interconnecting with the human and nonhuman web I’m part of: feeling, fearlessly, the depths of what it is to be alive.

***

These days I don’t dream of flying through an endless void, I dream of living in a house by the sea. Somewhere wild — away from Brexit Britain with its class system, foodbanks and nostalgic, colonial dreams.

The house I dream is old and at the water’s edge. Apart, but not entirely remote. Through the windows I see lights of other houses and know there’s a community out there — a community one day I’ll join, if I feel safe enough.I still listen to those concerts on the radio, live from foreign cities. I’ve been to some of those cities now.

Old dreams end.

I am coming in to land.

***

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