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Heimat and homesickness

In German there is a word, Heimat, which rather famously doesn’t have any direct translation into English. Most commonly the word is translated as “home” or “homeland”, words which are respectively, too small and too large to encompass the feeling of Heimat.

Heimat is more than a home and less than a homeland. It is the spaces that made you, the places that live tenderly inside your heart, it is not one place but many places — places that somehow add up to something whole.

When I first learned the word Heimat in a German class during college it seemed to me a revelation. A word that I had been looking for ever since I had left my home and flown across the country to go to school at MIT. It was a word I hadn’t known I’d need until I had moved away from home and found myself unable to explain the way I missed my home: not so much with sadness, but almost viscerally — as though the rocks and trees themselves were a part of me that I’d left, planted in soft soil some 3,000 miles away.

I still feel that way. Even after living in Boston for almost seven years, the city has never felt like home. My Heimat is still a piece of Northern California roughly described by the boundaries of Humboldt County, a place that is indelibly etched on the ventricles of my heart.

I mention this because the weather in Boston has been remarkably reminiscent of home this past week and I’ve been feeling more than a little homesick (heimwehkrank) as I listened to the rain pouring down outside my bedroom window and remembered so many nights spent similarly as a child in my bed at home.

This week I thought I’d share a little something I wrote about it:

It’s raining in Boston — a grey, cold rain that reminds of Christmas in California even though today is the first day of June. The sound of the rain dances in my soul and I feel blessed and washed clean of the weariness and heartbreaks that have gathered in me since the moment I first boarded a plane, almost seven years ago now, and flew away from the rocky beaches and tall trees I call home.

I boarded that plane with my heart in my throat but with a miracle stretching out before me — an unfolding of possible futures that had felt limitless.

As I flew across the country and away from childhood, as I descended into adulthood, I felt at once impossibly small and still larger than life, tucked away in the confines of my seat.

Now, seven years later, I no longer feel the same swell of possibility that floated in me as my heart caught in my throat. Seven years later and I feel bone-weary and over-wrought in a way that leaves me wondering, more days than not, whether it is still possible to keep on going when I feel so very tired.

And the miracle is that I do.

Day after day. Year after year.

Each morning I march off into the dawn like the “good” girl I’ve always aspired to be.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I can feel in me an exhausted yearning for tall trees and rocky beaches. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that I miss my home some days the way one might miss a lost tooth — as though there is a palpable emptiness inside me that I remain unable to fill.

I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I long to go home. Someday.

On some not-so-distant future morning.

But not this morning. Because on this morning the rains have come to wash my weariness clean and I can almost imagine that the swish of cars driving by on soggy streets is the sound of spruce trees — swaying in the wind.


Now it’s your turn! What does Heimat mean to you?


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