This past weekend marks one whole year since the day I came home to England, having spent a beautiful, difficult, altering year in Asia. It also happens to mark two whole years to the day since that adventure began. I’m not generally one for symmetry, but on this occasion, I think it’s sort of poetic.
We arrived back in London in darkness, our hands twining together instinctively as the runway appeared below us, a necklace of tiny twinkling rubies. It was cold, and the arrivals lounge was stark and grey and full of people speaking English without an interesting accent. The air tasted of metal and cigarette smoke. I remember feeling suddenly very small with the knowledge that after so many flights, this was the last one.
That was twelve months ago. Twelve whole months since I was last lost to the ocean, twelve months without breathing air that is not of my side of the world. Twelve months of being surrounded by family and friends instead of strangers, of drinking proper tea and talking about the weather, of routine and familiarity in place of new cities and incomprehensible languages.
“It is a strange thing to come home. While yet on the journey, you cannot at all realise how strange it will be.”
Recently, someone asked me about the experience of coming home, and how it felt to be suddenly still after being on the move for so long. In trying to find the words to answer, I realised that, in hindsight, there were so many moments towards the beginning when I was falling in on myself and not even realising it.
The moments when I sat on a train moving under the grey streets of London and felt like I couldn’t breathe. The moments when I found myself red faced and tongue tied when faced with strangers in meeting rooms at my new job, unable to function in that starched environment when only weeks earlier I would happily have danced around the room and shared childhood stories with someone I had never seen before. The moments when I would stand in the supermarket, rendered stupid and decision-less by the sheer volume of choice in front of me.
Everyone knows the ways in which it is difficult to leave, but there is a particular bitter sweet pain to coming home again. It is something you know by heart seen through different eyes, like seeing someone you once loved with absolute clarity and knowing you will never feel quite that way about them again. It is a particularly acute sense of displacement when you find yourself in a jumper and jeans, staring out of a rain streaked window at autumnal Yorkshire; when days previously you were surrounded by colour and noise in a series of places that hold no memories or preconceptions, places that allow you to be exactly who you are in that moment.
“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”
Mary Anne Radmacher
But there is so much beauty in the familiar too. It took a while to find it again, but there it is. In coming home, I am able to see the world in which I used to fit seamlessly through new eyes, through the eyes of the travellers who come to England to see the colours of the landscape and the history in the crumbling stone buildings. Through travel I have learned how to live within small moments, and that includes those that are unique to home – a frosty winter morning that begins with hot buttered toast and a soft boiled egg, the feeling of a thick clean duvet after a long bath, the way that the sun rises over the hills and makes everything rose coloured.
This has been a year that, even though temporarily grounded, I was determined would not be a waste. We don’t have enough years to waste even one of them. This was to be a year of saving and planning, of setting up and sizing down, of putting in the ground work. This one year at home was needed to ensure that we can travel for the next two, or three, or ten. It has been about patience; paying credit cards and stowing money safely into savings, researching different ways to travel, more long term and sustainable ways; trying to figure out how to make a life from this fiery need I have to leave, to explore, to wander. It will be worth it. And in the meantime, I can continue to re-learn how to love the place I call home, and to be grateful that, however hard it may be, I have such a beautiful place to come home to.