When a friend from Connecticut sent this article she had written asking me to read it and give her my opinion on it, I had to laugh. I had just gotten through clicking to join a “You know you are from….” group, and I thought what a coincidence I receive this email within minutes of doing the very thing she was writing about. I’ve never met my good friend Susan. We became acquainted through Facebook via my cousin, Mel, who lives in the same town.
Susan read a post I wrote on a topic that is dear to both of us and contacted me. We’ve been buddies ever since, and one day I hope to actually meet her. I know it will be as though we’ve always known each other. I am also confident that New London will feel like home because of the friends I have made. So – read her article and see if you think we can be of a place, but not from that place.
Enjoy Susan’s article and if something resonates with you, please leave a comment. And, by the way, that little blurb about South Louisiana – that’s me!
Article published Aug 21, 2011
For an on-the-move ‘Navy brat,’ can New London really be home?
By SUSAN ASSELIN-CONNOLLY
Recently, Facebook has exploded with postings on pages entitled “You know you are from (insert name of town here) if…” The sheer number of postings, with vague memories of long gone retail stores and second-grade teachers, veered quickly from interesting to irritant.
Someone posted that these pages had become the vuvuzelas of Facebook. It got me to thinking. What does it mean to have a sense of place? Isn’t it fundamentally the human condition to long for one? What is “home”? Is it an actual place or just the sense of it? Does it have a taste, a smell, a feel? Is it more, or maybe less, than a geographic location?
As a Navy brat, I read the New London page with a sense of unease. Even after 15 years of living here, can I really be “from New London” if I didn’t have Mrs. McGarry in sixth grade? Can you call a place “home” even if all of the postings read as if they are in code, while at the same time have a ring of the familiar? Because so too did the Norfolk, Va., and the Portsmouth, N.H. postings. Having moved so frequently as a child, multiple cities and towns on any coast could qualify as home. The realization that none of the pages applied to me, yet all of them did was unnerving. How can you explain a flash of recognition generated by a posting from a bayou town in Louisiana, a place that should be foreign? Can you be from someplace if you have never been there? More to the point, can you be from some place but not of that place?
In Everett Edward Hale’s short story “Man Without a Country,” Army Lt. Philip Nolan renounces the United States during his trial for treason and is subsequently sentenced to live the rest of his life at sea with nary a mention of his homeland. Each of us can recognize the exquisite pain such a punishment portends. Being stripped of the very sense of home, that place “when you go there, they have to take you in,” is akin to a slow, painful crushing of your soul.
An email from an old friend brought all of this into focus. Dr. Robyne Diller, a psychologist whose practice was formerly in New London, wrote to tell me she has finally written her book and would be in Connecticut on a book tour.
The book, entitled “How Everything Changed,” is essentially about feeling disconnected and yearning for home, that place Maya Angelou describes as “the safe place we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
It is also that place we can breathe most deeply, most authentically. Five years ago, Dr. Diller had a very busy practice, a house on the shoreline, and a creeping, insidious knowledge that she didn’t belong. Back then she might have described trying to put it into words as difficult as trying to catch a wisp of hair that falls against your cheek on a windy day. She simply knew she was merely masquerading as a person who belonged.
In the midst of her time of feeling disconnected from herself, from her thoughts of belonging, of being home, she traveled to Israel as a special celebration of her son’s bar mitzvah. Within a day of landing in Tel Aviv she realized that her ache for home had faded, for she had finally arrived. She had found her place of belonging.
Within a year she closed her practice, sold her house and had moved to Israel. She went home, leaving all that should have been familiar behind. Her book eloquently describes that journey home to a place she had never lived. She now was coming home to talk about finding home in a foreign land.
Perhaps the better question then might be: Can you be of a place but not from that place?
The author practices law and lives in New London.