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Country, Home, & Happiness

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Pienso que el hombre debe vivir en su patria y creo que el desarraigo de los seres humanos es una frustración que de alguna manera u otra entorpece la claridad del alma.  Yo no puedo vivir sino en mi propia tierra; no puedo vivir sin poner los pies, las manos y el oído en ella, sin sentir la circulación de sus aguas y de sus sombras, sin sentir cómo mis raíces buscan en su légamo las sustancias maternas.

I think that man should live in his homeland, and I believe that the uprooting of human beings is a frustration that somehow or other hinders the clarity of the soul.  I cannot live but in my own land; I cannot live without putting my feet, hands and ears in her, without feeling the flow of her waters and her shadows, without feeling how my roots seek maternal substances in her mud.

— Pablo Neruda

When I came back from studying abroad in Mexico, I cried at customs in Dallas.  For weeks that December, I was thrilled to be in my house, to eat broccoli and vegi sausage, to speak real American English, to be with my family.  But slowly, or maybe quickly, I felt strange.  What did it all mean?  Will I forget all the Spanish I learned?  How can I explain that despite all the challenges, I really, really like Mexico, that I even had a bit of belonging?  My solution was two-fold: one, to busy myself with things Mexican (food, movies, books, music, Smith classes, news), and two, to promise myself that again, I would live abroad in Spanish.  I am anticipating a similar dynamic in December 2011, and also a similar solution: to find work in South America again.  In fact, I am seriously considering the possibility of staying here for a second year, but I don’t want to go into that now.

The question that really urks me is, What makes me happy in the long-term?  I’ve always said I want to be away for “some time”, and then to raise a family in the US.  This passage in Neruda’s autobiography stuck out to me in particular because he writes this as he is heading back to Chile after living abroad for almost seven years, in Asia, Spain, France, and Mexico.  He concludes he must live in Chile after significant time abroad.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had anything to say on the subject: the question of which country we belong in is a question for people who have left.

In some ways, boy do I miss America.  Whatever I do next year, I know I will need and love a month or so at home, to sleep in my bed, to eat my favorite food, and to be with my favorite people.  But then, I will be ready to head out again — at least that’s what I’m thinking now.

Neruda is right — leaving the country is an uprooting, a sudden jerk of seasons and smells.  But does this “hinder the clarity of the soul”?  In some ways I am a blurrier picture now than I was seven months ago, but that’s because the learning has brought more complexity, more greys.  The more I know, the more I know I do not know.  Yet in some ways I am clearer now than ever, particularly about myself.  Yesterday I paused on the Río Palena bridge in disbelief that I had gotten myself out the door to run.  I was in a bad mood, procrastinated running until near dusk, but try as I did, I just couldn’t think of anything else that would make me feel better.  Sometimes chocolate works, but I knew, I just knew, this wasn’t the time.  I needed sweat and air, I needed the open view of the mountains.  Honestly, I am surprised I had this insight — but I guess I’m growing up.  I’d call that clarity of soul.

Yes, I ache for the natural world of my childhood, of my roots: for snowy winter in January, for strawberries in June and apples in October.  Yet a part of me still looks at the map of Latin America, lusting after a new adventure.  I dreamt I was teaching English in Korea.

But remember, Margaret, the real question about you want this year, or any year, isn’t what you think you should do, but what makes you happy?  And while it makes me so happy to be in the comfort of home, it also makes me happy to be in a different country, to learn, to find a bit of belonging somewhere new.

I have almost finished learning the Chilean national anthem, in time for Independence Day on September 18th.  Tonight I taught “America the Beautiful” with my high school elective, which has pretty much the same lyrics: majestic mountains, sea, God.  And I have to say, I had a little stirring of pride seeing that American flag, certainly more than I would, hearing that song from the US!

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Wednesday, September 7, 2011 9:52 pm

    “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
    xoxo

  2. Wednesday, September 7, 2011 10:37 pm

    I love it!

  3. David Russell permalink
    Thursday, September 8, 2011 3:38 am

    I understand your choices of illustrations!

  4. Thursday, September 8, 2011 7:15 am

    Thanks, Dad! (p.s. hint, hint, stock the fridge before I come home… = )

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