A few days ago in my post about the film The Man from Earth [Amazon Streaming, DVD], I wrote about the “can’t go home again” feeling everyone experiences at one time or another, and said this is really the simplest form of what I call the movement through place phenomenon. I wrote:
I suspect that most people when they give cursory thought as to why this is, come up with the answer that they have grown or changed over time. And while there is certainly some truth to this, I have come to feel that a big part of the change in people is due to the movement through place.
So what exactly is movement through place?
Imagine leaving home after 18 years to go off to college. You move to a new place, far from everything familiar. You build new relationships, discover a new town or city, and spend the first few months developing in ways you never imagined. Come winter holidays you return home and discover so much has changed. This is probably the first time you assigned some personal meaning to “you can’t go home again.” You know that you have changed, and suspect that everyone else is probably about the same as they were when you left. But what is the cause of your change? Is it only the passage of time, or have you experienced something more, a movement through a place where there are new people, new accents, new sights and sounds, foods, feelings, weather, architecture, opportunities, experiences…?
That the “can’t go home again” feeling can become so pronounced after so short a time makes me think that change of place has a much more profound effect than the passage of time. The amount of newness you experience when you first go to college can only be attributed to the place (and everything that comes with that place). A counter example might help.
Your married and have kids. They’re growing up and you want to spend as much time with them as you possibly can before it is their turn to go off to college. So you take trips with them away from home, exposing them to as much of the world as you possibly can. In summer the family takes 3 weeks and travels to Europe (lucky kids!). When you return home, everything is as it should be, your friends are the same, you feel pretty much the same, and you’re happy to be home again. Where is the “can’t go home again” feeling? Why is it missing? Was it because you were gone for only 3 weeks?
No, I firmly believe 3 weeks is enough time to acquire the can’t go home feeling, providing the conditions are right. Rather than the amount of time that has passed, it is the amount of place that has passed. In your first few months of college, everything about the place was new, but on the trip to Europe, the family around you created a barrier between you and the new place. In essence, some of your home was there with you throughout the trip so you never got fully immersed into the new place. Your discovery was limited because everywhere you went, a very big and important part of home went with you.
The saying, “home is where the heart is” comes to mind. (I promise not to include cliche idiomatic phrases in everything I write, and certainly using two in a single post will be the exception not the rule. Whoops. Make that three in one post. Hehe.) Home is your spouse, your kids. And when you bring the people you love with you, you’re bringing your home with you. I don’t believe you can’t really experience or understand fully what movement through place is really about, or at least what I think it is about, until you’ve traveled somewhere alone, or at least with a group of people you don’t know or have only recently met.
When you travel surrounded by family – in a cloak of the familiar – can the unfamiliarity of the new environment wash over you? Can you really soak in new places?
I do not argue or believe that you can never have worthwhile experiences when traveling within a cloak of familiarity. As my children were growing up we had many vacations filled with wonderful experiences, but my strongest memories – and therefore the things that were the most important to me – are of the kids and my spouse. But when I’m in a new place without the cloak of familiarity….