Friday, September 9, 2011

For an on-the-move 'Navy brat,' can New London really be home? by Susan Asselin-Connolly

 When a friend from Connecticut sent this article she had written asking me to read it and give her my opinion on it, I had to laugh. I had just gotten through clicking to join a "You know you are from...." group, and I thought what a coincidence I receive this email within minutes of doing the very thing she was writing about. I've never met my good friend Susan. We became acquainted through Face book via my cousin, Mel, who lives in the same town. 

Susan read a post I wrote on a topic that is dear to both of us and contacted me. We've been buddies ever since, and one day I hope to actually meet her. I know it will be as though we've always known each other. I am also confident that New London will feel like home because of the friends I have made. So - read her article and see if you think we can be of a place, but not from that place.

Enjoy Susan's article and if something resonates with you, please leave a comment.  And, by the way, that little blurb about South Louisiana - that's me!

Article published Aug 21, 2011
For an on-the-move 'Navy brat,' can New London really be home?
By SUSAN ASSELIN-CONNOLLY


Recently, Facebook has exploded with postings on pages entitled "You know you are from (insert name of town here) if…" The sheer number of postings, with vague memories of long gone retail stores and second-grade teachers, veered quickly from interesting to irritant.

Someone posted that these pages had become the vuvuzelas of Facebook. It got me to thinking. What does it mean to have a sense of place? Isn't it fundamentally the human condition to long for one? What is "home"? Is it an actual place or just the sense of it? Does it have a taste, a smell, a feel? Is it more, or maybe less, than a geographic location?

As a Navy brat, I read the New London page with a sense of unease. Even after 15 years of living here, can I really be "from New London" if I didn't have Mrs. McGarry in sixth grade? Can you call a place "home" even if all of the postings read as if they are in code, while at the same time have a ring of the familiar? Because so too did the Norfolk, Va., and the Portsmouth, N.H. postings. 

Having moved so frequently as a child, multiple cities and towns on any coast could qualify as home. The realization that none of the pages applied to me, yet all of them did was unnerving. How can you explain a flash of recognition generated by a posting from a bayou town in Louisiana, a place that should be foreign? Can you be from someplace if you have never been there? More to the point, can you be from some place but not of that place?

In Everett Edward Hale's short story "Man Without a Country," Army Lt. Philip Nolan renounces the United States during his trial for treason and is subsequently sentenced to live the rest of his life at sea with nary a mention of his homeland. Each of us can recognize the exquisite pain such a punishment portends. Being stripped of the very sense of home, that place "when you go there, they have to take you in," is akin to a slow, painful crushing of your soul.

An email from an old friend brought all of this into focus. Dr. Robyne Diller, a psychologist whose practice was formerly in New London, wrote to tell me she has finally written her book and would be in Connecticut on a book tour.

The book, entitled "How Everything Changed," is essentially about feeling disconnected and yearning for home, that place Maya Angelou describes as "the safe place we can go as we are and not be questioned."


It is also that place we can breathe most deeply, most authentically. Five years ago, Dr. Diller had a very busy practice, a house on the shoreline, and a creeping, insidious knowledge that she didn't belong. Back then she might have described trying to put it into words as difficult as trying to catch a wisp of hair that falls against your cheek on a windy day. She simply knew she was merely masquerading as a person who belonged.


In the midst of her time of feeling disconnected from her self, from her thoughts of belonging, of being home, she traveled to Israel as a special celebration of her son's bar mitzvah. Within a day of landing in Tel Aviv she realized that her ache for home had faded, for she had finally arrived. She had found her place of belonging.


Within a year she closed her practice, sold her house and had moved to Israel. She went home, leaving all that should have been familiar behind. Her book eloquently describes that journey home to a place she had never lived. She now was coming home to talk about finding home in a foreign land.


Perhaps the better question then might be: Can you be of a place but not from that place?


The author practices law and lives in New London.

5 comments:

  1. As an Air Force brat who moved every two years this did hit home. As an adult I kept being mobile, never finding my "place". Finally, I am parked with my wonderful husband (and German Shepherd) in a house it took us five years to build together. I have found my place of belonging. You know it when it happens. Barbara Griffin Billig

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  2. I found Susan's blog most interesting and it spurred me on to think about the nature of place and the notion of belonging.

    It's well over fifty years since,in my late twenties, I left north-east England, where I'd been born, where most of my relatives had been born, and where I was brought up, schooled, made friends, played cricket and rugby,started out as a teacher.

    I've lived in various places in the south of England and though I'm extremely happy I've never had that sense of belonging here, have always considered myself on the outside.

    When I went back home it was different. I belonged. At least I did so for several years and then came the oh-so-gradual distancing. When I met friends and even relatives I knew that I was no longer a fully paid-up member. Now I was simply a visitor who had to kept up to date. And today most of them have gone, a few to pastures new, others to more permanent abodes.

    When I go north now I'm a stranger and truth to tell I feel less deeply about the place as years go by.Except when I write about my childhood and youth.

    It's only then that the deep affection and the strong memories return. But I suppose it's nostalgia, nothing more than that. Maybe I've missed out somewhere. Maybe something in me is missing. But I have only the smallest grains of regret about the changes in me that have occurred for I'm at ease in the alien southern English place I now live in. It's really very pleasant. There's just that very occasional tinge of sadness when I wonder what I might have lost.

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  3. I'm an Army brat, and proud of it. Most of my life was spent moving from one Army post to another in the States and Europe...mostly Europe. I couldn't have asked for a better life. We always took our "home" with us wherever we went. My mother wrapped up our belongings and our "home" when we moved and set them back up every time in a new place. We never felt disrupted or anxious about our moves. It felt like an adventure. It wasn't until I was older that I understood what that "home" actually was. It was the security of a routine; it was the sameness of Daddy's chair as the centerpiece of our living room, and the centerpiece of our family; it was the special ways all of our beds were placed and "dressed;" and it was the feeling that nothing had really changed in our lives--we were all present and accounted for and we were who we were; loved, aggrevating, angry, happy, weepy, bossy or whatever...we were accepted and we were safe and secure and we were family.
    Coming home is where you're allowed to be you. Otherwise, the feeling of "home" to me is every military base I see, it's the American flag, it's military trucks in a caravan, marching soldiers in parades, the VietNam Memorial wall, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Nat'l Cemetery, it's the wonderful soldiers fighting in all the wars--especially those today. It's the feeling of pride I get when I put my hand on my heart and pledge alliegence to our flag. And tears I shed when I see dads come home from Iraq to surprise their children.
    Home is being with my husband where I'm loved and I'm accepted for just who I am. There's no certain place or town. It's just a place of the heart.

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  4. I used to live in New London actually. lolz. I was born and raised in another part of CT known as East Norwalk.
    I had moved a few places in my young life and always wound up back in CT. I loved NYC, Chicago, Indiana, etc. But CT always called me back.
    Where I live now I have been here 10 years and have never considered it home. Bridgeport.
    I loved New London personally. It was the perfect place. Right on the water, close to Mystic, affordable, a variety of ppl, etc.etc.
    I have often longed to go back to that area.
    Who knows maybe one day I will.
    Are you living in that area now?

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  5. Thank you to each of you who stopped by to post your thoughts. Thanks to Susan for writing the piece. There was a thought in each of your responses that resonated with me. I never experienced a place of belonging. May it was due to so much loss in my life. My sense of belonging (home) now comes from being with my wonderful husband and two dogs. It comes in spending time with my best friend and her two children. It comes in spending time with my younger daughter and her husband. But, there has never been a place where I have truly felt a part of. I have always felt like a stranger in the mist of places I should have felt at home. I have always felt a peace when I have traveled to the mountains. I am not from that place, but I feel of that place. Maybe it all has to do with where the heart feels peace, where the heart feels at home.

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