Saturday, July 04, 2009

Time, distance and home

My sister-in-law asked me recently if I thought I could live in the US again, after so much time away. Of course, that’s not something that’s even remotely possible right now, especially since the only way we could live in the US under current law is if Nigel was offered some fabulous, too-good-to-pass-up job, and that’s not going to happen (one has to seek a fabulous job to be offered one). That lack of legal status would be a huge barrier: Our legally recognised NZ relationship—our family—would instantly be transformed by US authorities into a mere friendship. I, of course, can live the in the US at anytime.

Which brings me back to the question: Could I live there now? One of the things about moving this far away from home is that even short-term visits are expensive and in my case, a couple days are lost in travelling. So, the difference between my mental image of the people and places I left behind and the reality of how they are now becomes greater over time.

Basically, in my mind the people and places I knew were sort of frozen in time, as if everything stopped on Halloween, 1995. Obviously I know they haven’t, and the few trips back have helped me see some of the change. But there’s so much other stuff that I haven’t been part of that it’s like it’s an entirely different country.

I’m reminded of that from time to time when I watch American TV news and they refer to something in pop culture and I have no idea what they’re talking about. A recent example was the death of TV hawker Billy Mays: I had no idea who he was or what he did, and the inevitable jokes about him went right over my head.

We’re hardly isolated in New Zealand: We get TV shows, movies and music from the US, Australia and Britain, as well as home-grown stuff, of course. But the US is a big country and many of the things that become pop culture phenomena there never makes it past its borders, so I never hear about it.

Add that to the march of time for the people and places I knew, and it means that were I to move back, it would mean not merely starting all over again, but also in many ways it would be as if I was an immigrant to my own homeland. Time and distance do that.

I think that’s a reality that all would-be immigrants should keep in mind as they contemplate moving overseas: You can always move back to your homeland, but the more time that passes, the truer it is that you can never go home again. It's better to make sure that your home is where your heart is—literally, whichever country you and your heart find yourselves living in. And don’t look back if you can help it.

The Fourth of July is the one day when I can’t help it, even if I really don’t know my homeland anymore. But I do know where my heart and home are, and that's enough for me.


Anonymous said...

Art, freezing my image in your mind is fine with me...I'll be forever young!!!

Changes in the States sometimes happen so fast that even we can't fully grasp them!

Happy Fourth of July!!!

Roger Owen Green said...

I didn't know who Billy Mays was either, and judging by Mark Evanier's obit, EVERYBODY does. I guess watching only what you want to watch, first on VCR then DVD or On Demand, one can miss the "icon" of selling.