Prosecards from the Edge (of a Continent)

A running commentary on my life in Izmir, Turkey...and other thoughts.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Into the Fold...and Back Out Again

Last night I sat outside until the wee hours, not in the mood to sleep and dazzled by the vision of a perfect half moon that caused the water below to sparkle and dance. As I watched, I pondered a version of the age-old question of trees and forests: if a lovely moon shines on a summer night, and there's no one of importance to share it with, does its loveliness really matter?

I have spent the past month amongst my People -- my family and countrymen. The homecoming was initially awkward. Time and distance had removed me from the culture as well as the webs of relationships and individual personalities. I had forgotten old rhythms of speech, rituals of interaction. My movement within these groups was stiff, even wary, some part of me fearing that I would be called to account for my absence and what I had made of myself; what would happen if my account were not fabulous enough to compensate for years of relationships left behind to shrivel on the vine? What if I accidentally let on about this sadness that's been eating at my soul for some time now? It would confirm the feelings of those people who feel that I am wasting my time over here, give leverage to the ones who wish me back, subtract from my fight for this adopted homeland that I cannot help but have a fierce love for and loyalty to...

Our family has never been close. We are an intellectual, serious, introverted, and generally interpersonally clumsy bunch, and when I first moved away I did not see the physical distance from the clan as anything of much import. The ethic of rugged individualism, of go-your-own-way and do-your-own-thing, has always been alive and well; from the outset the space between all of us was cavernous, whether we lived next door or on the next continent. Over the years, though, there has been a shifting of the tides. It began with the death of my grandmother, my father's mother, which I think produced such a sense of loss in my father that the importance of family ties began to take on a fresh significance. He started to organize annual family get-togethers, only one of which -- the first -- I was able to attend. At that point I was still fairly cynical and not quite sold on this idea of 'family togetherness'; I saw it as a reaction to grief on my father's part, and I seriously doubted that I would ever develop a close relationship with him or the other members of my family, we being what we were.

As I have aged, and perhaps in part also as I have lived in a country whose culture is so vastly different from my own that it is easy to feel a sense of disconnectedness, these family meetings have begun to take on new significance for me. My brother Carl, who keeps a wonderful blog, wrote that "whenever I revisit my family, I am amazed at just how narrow my circle [of acquaintance] really is." He speaks of the great diversity that is present even within our family alone, and the limits of one's professional world and the types of people one comes into contact with. I come at this issue from the other side. I left the U.S. because I was thirsting for the world, fascinated by different cultures and walks of life. In one day of my current life, I might have conversations with academics, fishmongers, housewives hailing from the old aristocracy, bus drivers and gypsies. My world is very, very broad; what family gives me is a sense of core, puts me back in touch with my DNA, stiffens my spine and reinforces the knowledge of who I am and where I come from. I discover, perhaps really for the first time, that I am proud of my family and the legacy of which I am part. I realize anew that I am not 'nobody', that I have reason to hold my head up, to walk with a calm self-assuredness that stems from the collective depth and integrity of my clan. For my brother, encounters with family are a study in expansion. For me, they are an exercise in returning to the center.

And now I return to the problem of this moon, this perfect half-circle, the filigreed light on water, the breeze that I try in vain to sketch with words but will never be able to whisper over anyone's skin without their actually being here. I love this land, deeply. It is as much my home as California, possibly even more. I miss it when I leave, and feel a sense of homecoming when I return. Still, my friendships here are few, family members nil, love life in shambles. These treasures of the senses ring hollow to me, and my days are shadowed with silence and loss. What use is this moon, the Aegean summer's particularly yellow shade of sunshine, the splendid aquamarine waters you could while your life away in, if there is no one of significance to share it with? I am a dog in possession of a Van Gogh. Caught between two worlds -- this bright and exotic one that fascinates me every time I set foot out the door, and the world that grounds me. How to reconcile the two? My friend Mitch always used to say 'you can have it all -- just not all at the same time.' Perhaps he's right. Something's got to give, but what, and when?


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