Tag Archives: lightness

losing homeland

I finally tracked down the Marie Cardinal quote regarding her unexpected loss of her homeland. It’s both better and not as sufficient as I remembered it. I quote the original French from Les Pieds-Noirs (Belfond, 1988) followed by my translation.

Marie Cardinal in 1930 (from Les Pieds-Noirs)

Les années d’insouciance, celles de mon enfance, de mon adolescence, et les premières années de ma vie de femme… les premières amours…le premier enfant… Le poids de cette légèreté, de cette beauté, de cette tendresse, de cette inconscience ! Peut-être que cela palpite toujours en moi parce que je n’ai jamais quitté ces images pour toujours, jamais je ne les ai rangées dans un tiroir ou une valise, jamais je n’ai regardé la terre de ma jeunesse en me disant que je n’y serais plus chez moi. La dernière fois que j’en suis partie, je ne savais pas que c’était la dernière fois. J’étais venue de Grèce où j’enseignais au lycée français de Thessalonique. Enceinte de huit mois, incapable de voyager en avion dans l’état où j’étais, j’avais méandré soixante-dix heures à bord de l’Orient-Express qui prenait des allures de diligence, puis j’avais vogué vingt heures sur un paquebot, pour venir, comme une tortue, mettre au monde mon enfant sur mes plages. Je n’imaginais pas qu’un petit venu de mon ventre puisse voir le jour ailleurs que là… Ensuite je suis repartie avec ma fille dans mes bras, c’était l’été, je reviendrais pour Noël. Je ne savais pas que, désormais, je n’aurais plus de maison. Je ne savais pas que ma terre ne serait plus jamais ma terre. (11-12)

The carefree years, those of my childhood, my adolescence, and the first years of womanhood … first loves … the first child … The weight of this lightness, this beauty, this tenderness, this unawareness! Perhaps it still pulsates in me because I never permanently left these images, I never put them away in a drawer or a suitcase, I never looked at the land of my youth while telling myself that I would never again be home. The last time that I left, I didn’t know it would be the last time. I had come back from Greece where I was teaching in a French high school in Thessaloniki. Eight-months pregnant, unable to travel by airplane in that state, I had meandered seventy hours aboard the Orient Express that ran at the speed of a stagecoach, and then I wandered twenty hours on a steam ship, so that, like a turtle, I could give birth to my child on my beaches. I couldn’t imagine that this child coming from my tummy could ever see the day somewhere other than there… Then I left again with my daughter in my arms, it was summer, I would come back for Christmas. I didn’t know that, from then on, I would no longer have a home. I didn’t know that my land would never again be my land.

Her lightness of being, her state of carefree existence, came from knowing her home would be there to support her. Once it was gone, she attached herself to the mental image and repeated it throughout her literary career. Les Pieds-Noirs is a photographic coffee-table book mixed with autobiography and history of the Pied-Noir people. It is, in many ways, a reproduction of the lost homeland, a surrogate and horribly insufficient space designed to protect the past from being forgotten.

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empty but not light

Yesterday I finished reading the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera which spends its final chapters expounding on the noble love that people give their dogs – more noble than love for humans because there is no real power dynamic at play. I read through tears because yesterday I also sent my six year old cocker spaniel to live with a new family. This loss does not bring me lightness. The absence of her dog bed in the living room, or her sad droopy eyes staring up at me hopefully, feels like a gaping wound. There is something missing that has been a fixture of my daily life for the past six years.

Although not nearly animal hoarders, we still have two cats and a dog who will also need new homes. The expense and complications of migrating with four animals is too much, and we know we haven’t been giving the dogs the attention they deserve, especially since the birth of our daughter who is always our priority. I look at her and I know she is what matters most, and she is coping just fine with one less animal in the house.

To me, and I know this is temporary, it just feels like a part of me has been lopped off suddenly. Not quite a limb, but maybe the tip of a toe. It hurts, but I know that extremity is going to make someone else very happy and that she, too, will be frolicking in a new yard and getting the daily walks and pats and hugs she deserves.

exposure

If writing the self can be considered a transgressive act, what of showing the inside of your home in non-camera ready state? How often do we see the inside of a lived-in bedroom that is not our own? (How many years did I know my very open French host family before they showed me their master bedroom?) And rarer still, the inside of a stranger’s refrigerator, garage, or storage space.

I’ve had a recurring dream of exploring a haunted house, and the farther I climb into the attic, the ghosts become less frightening and more elusive. They recede from me as I seek to bring them to light.

What’s in those boxes in the far back of our mind, stored away for when we need them, but largely forgotten? Are the memories going to retreat further into the recesses when we seek to pull them to the fore? Is it fear itself that recedes when we seek to confront it?

I’m emptying the storage, gathering momentum, and longing to minimize the surrounding stuff that protects me; yet, I feel far from vulnerable by the exposure. Coming out, transgressing, normalizing what was hidden sometimes leaves me raw, sullen, and nostalgic, but on the whole I feel lightness as I untether myself from stuff.

 

unbearable lightness

I’ve been wading through The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera and one thought has come to rest upon me. Some people are heavy. Others need stuff to weigh them down. Especially when they’ve become untethered.

Can hoarding be a symptom of that weightlessness that causes discomfort? The uneasy feeling once our favorite anchor has given way?