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 “Ik ben een wereldburger, mijn vaderland is overal; of eigenlijk ben ik een vreemdeling voor iedereen.” 

      “I am a world citizen, my homeland is everywhere; actually I am a stranger to everyone.”                                                            – ERASMUS

Earlier this afternoon I was at the bookshop of a friend, riffling through her stacks of clearance sale books.  I came across one about Belgium which I had seen early last year at a friend’s home in Ostend, and in which the above quote was found.  Then, I had taken the time to jot down the sentence in the back of my journal, impressed as I was that Erasmus could know exactly how I felt at that moment.

The next box at Beth’s bookshop revealed a book which is already on my shelf: “Third Culture Kids – The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds” by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken.  Since it was first published in 1999 it has become a Bible of sorts for people like myself who grew up in-between cultures and want to understand how that experience left its mark on their identity.  A sample: “The third culture kid builds relationships to all of the cultures (around them), while not having full ownership of any.”

If there is any great sense of loss in my life it is simply this: I have never had the experience of feeling completely “at home” in any place where I have lived.  Oh sure, I can enjoy it, engage it, even flourish in it; but at the back of my mind I know I am ultimately an interloper, a sojourner, a transient.  On the one hand I can quickly feel comfortable enough in a huge variety of cultural settings; on the other hand I know there will always be intricacies to the culture, language and place that I will never fully grasp.

I have the same struggle with churches by the way.  Take the Church of England, for instance, the church of which I am a clergyman.  It is a fine church, and one I enjoy and appreciate.  But it is the Church of England, and it is very English.  Honestly, more than once I’ve received a letter from my bishop which contained such nebulous language that I had to take it to an English friend to help me understand what I was being told.  No kidding!  And I have discovered that a cultural trait which we Americans love – namely that of taking initiative – is something to be avoided at all costs in my beloved church.  (These are the people who took 170 years – !!! –  to move to the Gregorian calendar after the rest of Europe did so.)  And now that I’m working for a fully Dutch parish I am coming to see that it is really Dutch in its values and operation.  All well and good, but I sometimes can’t tell if I’m coming or going.  “I am a stranger to everyone…”

They say that home is where the heart is.  My problem is that wherever I am, my heart eventually starts hankering to be somewhere else.  I’ve come to accept that wherever I choose to live I am always going to be grieving the places where I don’t live.  Or to put it positively, no matter where I’ve made my home, I miss the other places I consider home.  I’m fortunate really that I have been given many homes, rather than just the one.   “…my homeland is everywhere”.

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5 thoughts on “Home

  1. Two quotes that came to mind:

    “No man is an island, entire of itself; every
    man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
    main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
    were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or
    of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes
    me, because I am involved in mankind, and
    therefore never send to know for whom the bells
    tolls; it tolls for thee.”

    John Donne
    Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17
    (Meditation) 1624 (published)

    AND

    “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
    “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
    (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

    Best wishes, Dirk

  2. I can in a way understand you, Howie, I was born in Germany, spent my childhood there, received my education there and spent one year in the USA. I live now in Canada for more than half a century.
    I married a wonderful German woman, another tie to my former homeland. Three children were born to us here in Canada, they have their roots here.
    Who am I ? Where do I belong?
    I feel like Erasmus being a ‘Weltbuerger’ like an astronaut, looking down on the earth and seeing no borders on the globe, dividing countries. Does that matter? not really. I am at home where I am happy and fulfilled and can openly communicate with people.
    I am looking forward to my final ‘homeland’ and hope I will fit in there too.
    Helmut

  3. This rang so many loud and comforting bells… many thanks to Howie Adan for this, and three cheers to Dirk for bringing it to my attention! I was born in Wales of a Dutch father and a Dutch/German mother (who was born and bred in Indonesia, and originally of Hungarian extraction, +300 years ago), brought up in the French part of Switzerland, living in England, married to an Irishman… baptised a Congregationalist, confirmed in the American Episcopal Church, an Elder in the United Reformed Church, currently worshipping at the Church of Scotland in Covent Garden, and working for the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace… so I know the joys – and the sorrows and frustrations – of being such a mixed bag 🙂

  4. It’s funny, I’ve noticed that I feel dutch in english settings and english in dutch settings.

    It has to be said though, I do feel a lot more dutch than english. I feel a lot more comfortable being an international type in holland than being a dutch type in england – I guess culturally I’m just more dutch.

    Thomas Jones

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