Can we ever own more than the space we take up?
Blame it on Brexit. I never thought the vote would go the way it did, and that the country I was born in would decide to tear itself away from the rest of Europe. I thought I’d always be an EU citizen, with the right to live and work anywhere I chose in twenty-eight different countries. And because I always had the right, I never used it. It was only the thought I might lose a life I had always dreamed of, but never pursued, that made us take the leap we did.
In a small park overlooking the mountain-encircled port of Vancouver, we searched for holiday rentals on A’s phone. Perhaps we never would have married if not to make her an EU citizen, too. We’d been together for more than ten years without feeling any need to make it legal. But there are times when the craziest ideas start to make sense. I had just started a new job, but she could work from anywhere. And my writing paid a modest sum every month. Intending to stay in Vancouver, we’d just poured money into renovating our apartment. Deciding to blow it all off and travel around Europe for an indefinite period was wildly out of character for two planners like us. But that’s what we did. Starting in Italy, we stayed for six months before moving to southern France for a year, then back to Italy.
And the wildest ideas are sometimes the best you’ll ever have.
A hundred years ago, ancient empires crumbled and collapsed for less than this. A home. A homeland. A place of one’s own. A sense of belonging, of standing still on one particular and favored rock while an ocean of white-capped time surges all around.
This means nothing to me.
Maybe it’s in my blood. For generations, my ancestors farmed the same wild corner of Ireland, clinging to the barren rock through famine and hardship. But the world changed, and war came, and my grandfather left his home as a young man and never came back. My father lives now in the city he was born in, but he spent his adult life wandering the world, across continents and hemispheres, the miles behind him fading away like the white plume of a passenger jet carving its way across a friendly sky. They say that the red in my beard, the parts that were the first to turn white, is a Scandinavian trait (There were no such thing as Vikings, I’ve read. There were simply men who went Viking, following the sea road to richer lands. A verb, not a noun). This could go back a long way.
I don’t have a home, really. I’m not homeless in the sense that the word has come to mean, though. I pay the rent with writing (so like and share, and tell your friends to do the same, please!). In the last couple of years, we—me and my wife and our cat—haven’t spent more than six months in one spot. We don’t have to live like this. We like it.
My lifestyle isn’t anyone’s concern besides my own, of course. But I see this everywhere. Especially in Canada, especially in America, in England, in France. No one is from here. And in the swollen cities of this century, no one can afford to stay for long. You grab on and hold on, in a city like Vancouver, or San Francisco, or London, or Paris, or New York, for as long as you can. And every year the rent goes up, and every year your money gets stretched a little more, a wild and raving heretic on a medieval rack, until one day it’s over. Your grip slips and away you go, flung by centripetal force out to the suburbs and their dreary commutes. Or to another city, another country.
Meanwhile, if you’re one of the lucky ones, maybe you’ll actually buy a home the way our parents did. So now you’re renting from the bank instead. Besides, homes aren’t places to live. Didn’t you get the memo? They’re investments, brick-and-mortar machines that turn bullshit into money while you watch fake numbers rise on paper, and pay real cash in ever-growing taxes on theoretical future gains. Houses are no longer homes. They’re rungs on an endless ladder, more escalator than staircase. And you’re running desperately up the down side for as long as you can.
Maybe the snails and the crabs have it right. Maybe the only real home you’ll ever know is the one you carry with you. The space you take up, casting your tiny shadow against the bright immensity all around. I like that. I like the thought that for as long as my heart keeps knocking in my ribs, I’ll always be home. And after that, who knows? Maybe we merge again with the stars we came from, our atoms re-fusing with the cosmos we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we’re separate from.
Until then, I’ll be right here.