Talking to my cousin B. a couple of days ago, she told me that way back speaking to my mother, my mum had said the following to her: ‘My son is German, but his heart is Australian.’
I can’t remember mum ever saying that, but hearing it immediately feels familiar and I won’t try and deny the truth in it. I have always felt at home in Australia. I have always loved the country and its people.
But then if it is one of the major challenges of our existence to accept and become who we are, does that mean I now have to find a spot of Australian soil to go with my Australian heart? Perhaps, perhaps, as my friend F. would say, but maybe, maybe things aren’t as simple. Life has a tendency to love that complex space between what is either black or white.
The last 10 months on the road have taught me over and over again that the word ‘home’ constitutes a lot more than simply a geographical location. It is a narrative we have accumulated in our lives, a combination of smells, songs, food, places, people, ancestors, images, words, phrases, all tied together by intimacy, familiarity and memories. A combination that I have no active control over, a combination of as much choice as of random chance.
Spinning this, I feel myself combining the two facts that
1. I love Australia and 2. My home is Germany.
Responsibility is the ability to respond. Our ability to respond to what life is and has become, to the circumstances we find ourselves in. The circumstances I find myself in is that life, that combination of choice and chance, has led me to Ettenheim, a small town a little distance from Freiburg on the border of the Black Forest in the South of Germany. I also find that right now our house, the home we have been accumulating life in during the last 8 years is becoming too small. Our family is growing and evolving, transforming. This means we will have to rethink and re-create our home to make it match our needs. In the course of this year Mone and I have asked ourselves many times how we want to respond to this challenge.
Some days ago, we both listened to an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (and yes, I have to admit, it took Mone some convincing to get me to give it a shot, I then loved it) who, by mentioning a guideline she lives by, once again made me feel that here was somebody expressing a thought that rang familiar with an undeniable truth for me in it. Gilbert says that nowadays she will try and make choices according to their possibility of making her feel warm, safe and loved.
Warm, safe and loved.
This is what I want my home to be, this is what I want it to make me feel. When finding a place to settle down in, this is what I want to guide me.
When internally probing I find that the narrative that I tell myself when speaking “home” does not necessarily have to be limited to one location, nor even time. I will for example always consider ‘the lake’ (for me there will always only be one lake – the Lake of Constance) home, a place where I feel warm, safe and loved.
Also, my personal feeling of being warm, safe and loved will always be one with its own aussie tinge:
Walking bare feet on endless sandy beaches, the smell of damp eucalyptus, the morning call of the Kookaburra, meatpie, cold beer, salt water drying on the skin, the green of the ocean, swimming out to the sandbank, the turning in unison of the heads of a mob of roos, surfshops, Macademia Nuts, Black Cuckatoos in the trees, speaking, hearing & living in English, memories of skateboarding Cherrybrook, wandering around Circular Quay, watching my girls muck around in the shallow water with their new friends, picking up coffees at the little corner shop, trying to hook a prawn onto a fishing rod, deciding to go over or under a wave, and then the people my friend, always the people…
While we stand on the brink of stepping back into the new ‘old’ life in Ettenheim, I look back at the last months and see that over and over during our stay in Australia, we were made to feel warm, safe and loved. We felt at home. A feeling we carried within the ring of our little fellowship but were also often gifted with by people from the outside while we were in the country: by taking us in, by helping us travel, by listening to our stories, by asking questions, by sharing, by welcoming us unquestioned and unconditionally. We are so very grateful for that, thank you beautiful people of Australia.
Our trip, which has now almost spun its 360 degree (our first and last stop being the beautiful town of U. I grew up in – on the lake, of course) has been an adventure. Looking back at the last 10 months I do not regret any choice we made, any place we visited, any challenge stared down. In your face, Corona! It has been incredible to spend such an amount of quality time with the girls, with the people that by chance and choice form my core family. It has been incredible to do something I love with the people I love for such a long time.
On my flight back to Germany I was once again handed input to combine two thoughts. I listened to a podcast with John Strelecky – the guy who had the idea with the ‘big five for life’, a concept to jot down 5 elements that essentially matter to you, so that they may guide you and give orientation in life – and an article on Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings(preparation for the idea of a Tolkien class in high school. You better get your ass off the couch, Mr Schmitz!).
Even though Strelecky’s concept wasn’t new to me, I wrote down the first 5 things that came into my mind. One of them was “travel”. I have always loved travelling, which is very much opposed to the idea of taking a holiday. The holiday’s intention is leisure, entertainment and relaxation, the intention of travel is to explore and it does so, as the Tolkien article explained in depth, by accumulating new experience on the outside but even more so on the inside. The journey as such is an almost mythical experience because the fellowship oversteps geographical boundaries which leads to the experience and exploration of internal challenges. The result is transformation, meaning that whoever returns home is no longer the same person that left in the first place. Of course, this is also true if you merely walk down the street to get a cup of coffee, it all depends on your definition of ‘journey’ and your scale of ‘challenge’ or ‘transformation’.
In that sense, it’s not a “goodbye”, it’s an “Auf Wiedersehen!” It’s not a last, it’s the first step to yet again something new and special.
Until we may meet again, beautiful people, we thank you so very much!
We will miss you, Australia.
Take care, be safe, live strong.