family home on traveling ukraine

Home, Homeland and the Heart

It’s quite powerful the pull that a land, a place can have on us, and how unabashedly quickly that can develop. When I left Ukraine by train a few weeks ago for a few days, 7 am departure towards Bulgaria, I was very strongly feeling the pull to stay, and the loss that comes from leaving “my home.” I put “home” in quotes because it is not my home, but rather the home of my ancestors, but in a way it does feel like home to me. I also remember ruminating about the power of and my connection to the land in India when I was to have departed that place after being there about 5 weeks. Does it just take a matter of weeks to develop a sense of belonging to a place? That is what seems to happen at times, and seems to have happened here fairly quickly, there is a sense of “belongingness.”

And it’s confusing, because I also have a not-so-small hatred for this place, for the soil here holds generations of suffering and persecution of my ancestors. It’s not an all-encompassing hatred, but it is certainly there. So I guess it really is more of a sense of belonging than of love, or perhaps both, for unlike some I do believe that love and hatred can actually co-exist.

This is the land that I come from. Funny how I phrase that, as if it is unequivocal. In fact my grandparents came from four different places on this planet: Bessarabia (Ukraine), Belo Russia, Germany and Ireland, yet at least in this moment, it is my ties to Bessarabia and the Ukraine that feel the strongest, more self-defining.

The way that I grew up – living in rented apartments my entire life, in different towns and cities, from a broken home, with grandparents living in different cities and mostly different states – I don’t really feel very rooted to a single place enough to call it “home.” I wouldn’t necessarily call the Chicago area where I was born and spent most of the first 24 years my home. Perhaps “my home town,“ but honestly the best way to say it would be to call it “the place I come from” and add to that “the place where I still have many family and friends that I love.” I built my home a few years back now, in northern California (over 2,000 miles away from that place) with one of the hopes being to create a home for generations of my family to live, love, grow, create and expand, yet while I’ve completed that wonderful home, I haven’t yet managed to populate it with my own family to spawn that multigenerational “homeland.” While I’m very much appreciating my friends and the people in the community there who I love who are helping that place feel ever more and more like home, without our own family, can a place truly be “home?”

And somehow now, at least in 2009 and for the foreseeable future, I’ve become a bit of a global vagabond, traveling to whence the wind blows and my heart leads, continuing to grow less and less defined by or attached to place. There is something wonderful about that for me, as I can begin to shed the wraps of nationalism, relationships, home and identification , leaving me more naked to the truth of simply being whoever and belonging wherever I am.

Yet there is a connection to the Jews of Khotyn, of Bessarabia, which points to something in me that yearns to belong, to be a part of. There is a song called Mira which I love which never fails to bring tears to my eyes when I sing it, and I sing it often. I believe it’s from the musical Carnival although I learned it from an album of one of my mother’s dear friends, Audrey Morris. That it touches me so is reflective of this inner longing:


I come from the town of Mira, beyond the bridges of St. Claire,
I guess you’ve never heard of Mira, it’s very small but still it’s there.
They have the very greenest trees, and skies as white as flame,
But the thing I like the most about Mira, is everybody knew my name.

Can you imaging that? Can you imagine that?
Everybody knew my name.
Can you imaging that? Can you imagine that?
Everybody knew my name.

A room that’s strange is never cozy, a place that’s strange is never sweet,
I want to find a chair that knows me, and walk a street that knows my feet,
I’m very far from Mira now, and there’s no turning back,
I want to find a place, I’ve got to find a place, where everything is just the same,
A street that I can know, and places I can go,
Where everybody knows my name.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that?
Everybody knew my name.
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine that?
Everybody knew my name.

I write about this song here because it deeply touches my heart, and it is the place in my heart that so deeply longs to feel connected to a place, but I know that a place is only as meaningful to me as the people who are in that place and the love that we share together. There are places that I have in my life where I know I am always welcome and can always stay there without ever needing to ask: with my niece Dacia and her family in Illinois, my father’s home with his wife Sandra in Thailand, and strangely with my brother Steve who in his life has rejected me more than anyone else, yet whose love for me (and somehow contradictory acceptance of me) shines through. Oh and then there is my cousin Irv (we adopted each other) who is like family to me and always welcomes me to his home, and my sister (another where we adopted each other) Loretta who also always welcomes me in her home and heart. So I have places, including other friends and relatives who always make me feel wanted and welcome in their homes, (Guy, Michele, John, Wayne, Adrian, Gary, Ronny, Brother Jeff, Eric, Evan, BJ to name some but not all – please don‘t feel excluded as I didn‘t put too much time into this list) but the point for me is that there isn’t a connecting thread of place that weaves it together for me.

Somehow, in this lifetime of mine, one of my tasks seems to be to cobble together a patchwork of love, family, place, history and relationship to create my own sense of home, a homeland I suppose within my own heart, for it is there that it all can come together.

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