“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”.