Saturday, June 11, 2011

Coming Home

When I was almost three years old, my parents took me to Disneyland Paris. A family trip to get away from Britain - and go to France (don't ask me what they were thinking). For someone that young, I remember it quite well. Rides, characters and shows, it was a real riot!

However, looking back, one ride I could never seem to stomach was that monstrous It's A Small World... What's so cute about an army of disturbing dancing dolls singing the same set of lyrics until it's coming out your ears? Not to mention those terrifying, constant grins painted on their faces. And it didn't matter how happy go-lucky the damn music was, or how many different sets of clothes they were dressed up in or how it was that the untouched native-american dolls could speak and sing in flawless english - you still left without some small part of your soul. And here's the best part: when you'd had enough, when you'd come to your senses, when you'd realized that you might not leave with your sanity intact, you would turn to leave and - whoops. That's right, you're in a goddamn rickety boat stuck in a little horror-moat (the rhyme fits the scene).


It takes a sick mind to devise such a house-of-horrors for poor, innocent children. Damn you, Walt Disney. Stick to caricatures of talking mice, ducks and dog-creatures (what the hell is Goofy anyway?), and leave the real world depictions to Michael Moore (no.... wait).


In any case, I went to DisneyWorld about a year ago now, much older and wiser in the ways of the 'small world' (at least, compared to my two-year-old self). And, waywardly wandering around the Magic Kingdom, I came across none other than the same damned ride. We each stared the other down, circling around like some mexican standoff (except we were in Florida, and I was the only one moving). Finally, I swallowed my fear, summoned my courage and bravely walked in.

Though they may have stopped the ride midway because my brave war-cry was drowning out the dolls' satanic chanting, I damned-well made that ride my bitch. Walking (or escorted) out with my head held high, I bought myself a victory-popsicle from the hairy vendor across the road. However, while sitting down and thoroughly enjoying the sight of a fat Cinderella trying to make it up the castle steps, I could think only of that ride. Is it really such a small world?

When I moved to North America 10 years ago, I hated it and refused to accept it. But this summer, I left my house in Canada, my friends, books and car, hopping a plane bound for Europe. I've traveled for the better part of my life, moved ten times, attended eight different schools, and lived in four different countries on three different continents. And yet, for the first time in memory - I didn't want to leave. Why?


Now I sit here in Germany, having just come back from the pub with an old friend. He fished up that old memory when, after our food had been set down, he turned to me and said:

"So, Alex. You've moved so many times, and you've a German passport, but vhere is home for you?" (in his thick German accent)

I was about to reply, but I paused suddenly - I couldn't answer. Nothing came to mind immediately, as it used to. Instead, I sat there pondering, racking my brains for an answer. An answer, and not to his question, but to why my usual one no longer felt right. A few moments went by, and he could tell I was having a little trouble. He took a swig from his mug of Hefe-Weissbier, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt and said:

"Ah, mein freund." he chuckled "Now zis becomes an entirely different question. Vhat exactly is a home for you?"

I took a sip of my beer and shook myself awake. What is home? I quote Jack Sparrow:
"That's what a ship is, you know. It's not just a keel and hull and a deck and sails. That's what a ship needs. But what a ship is... what the Black Pearl really is... is freedom."


In the same way, a home isn't just a roof and ceilings, a floor and doors. That's what a home may need, but a home is... what it REALLY is... is something else entirely.

"Home is where I hang my hat", "Home is the place where it feels right to walk around without shoes", "Home is where you can scratch where it itches". But we're all so different, and such a vital things means something so different to each of us that it becomes difficult to find an all-consuming, universal, flexible and adaptive definition - Yeah, way to go, Captain Obvious.


But then we get back to the demon-ride. This world isn't so small when you think about it. Yeah, toss aside the internet, the telephones, fax machines and computers and what do you have? A magnificently colossal world, ripe with unknown places and adventures. I'm not saying toss me a fedora, a whip, a fear of snakes and start calling me Indiana Jones (although I sure as hell wouldn't mind) - but I am trying to say that in this giant world, home is something to be valued and understood.
There are so many great thoughts, ideas and opinions on what Home truly is.

"Home is not where you live, but where they understand you" - Christian Morganstern
"Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to" - John Ed Pearce
"Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in" - Robert Frost

We all need to have our own definitions of home. So as I sat there, running my fingers through my hair, my friend looked at me and said:

"Alex, I don't know about you, but no matter vhere I travel in ze verld, I see my home as some-sing I can come back to. And zis vun sing to come back to, is ze place vhere I have somevun vaiting for me. Somevun who matters a lot." he smiled, holding his mug out to me. I grinned, picked up mine, knocked it against his and we drained them both.

Yeah, I've traveled for the better part of my life. I haven't felt at home since I left the U.K. over ten years ago, and I now understand why it felt so odd leaving Canada this summer. A passport, a piece of paper, cannot tell me (or anybody) where home is.


I've unconsciously made that frozen wasteland my home, through its frigid winters, its sweltering summers and its endless political-correctness. I am by no means Canadian, but neither am I entirely German, South-African or British. I am a world citizen, and my home is in the "true north, strong and free". Why? Because of the people I've come to love and miss.

"A house is made of walls and beams; a home is built with love and dreams." - English proverb


My home is where there are people waiting for me, people who mean something, something strong and often indescribable - and though my travels have only just begun, I'll be back home before long.

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