“The soul travels by horseback,” wrote Harry Mulisch in The Stone Bridal Bed, which means that though we can physically travel vast distances by air, train or sea, our souls move at a much slower pace, as if on horseback.
I love that saying for its literary quality, but more, I love it because I know it to be true.
When we moved to Kuala Lumpur last September, I know that my body moved there and that my worldly goods did too. But my soul still doesn’t call it home. I reckon it’s currently got about as far as India.
It is commonly believed that expats new to a location should not go ‘home’ for the first year, allowing themselves to assimilate, get used to the new culture and get over the hump of culture shock. Some believe that if you do go ‘home’ too soon you may decide never to leave again. Getting used to a new place is hard. I know it usually takes me until I’ve celebrated (sic) that arrival anniversary to start using the H Word. However, relocating at this particular age and stage of our lives and moving 7,000 miles east, away from our closest relatives, student offspring and friends has had a surprising implication. It’s as if the number and length of my trips ‘home’ have been in direct proportion to the distance we have travelled. I never went back this often when we lived in Holland. My brother lives about 100 miles from my parents, yet he sees them less than I do and always has, though I have lived abroad for more than 20 years. Already, in the 10 months we’ve been gone, I’ve visited them three times and they’ve visited us once. In total we’ve sent close to two months in each other’s company. I’d been in Europe in March and April and now, six weeks later, I’m back again. Too much. Too soon, my soul cries. Enough already.
My body knows I’m here, I can attest to that, having now lugged my bright yellow suitcase on and off buses, trains and tubes and up and down staircases to four different bedrooms so far. And I’ve only been gone 10 days.
So far, the maximum amount of time I have remained in KL since September, has been eight weeks. Is it any surprise that my soul and body are confused?
There seems to be a lack of congruence between the different parts of me. It’s not that I am still in KL, in the air somewhere above Saudi or still down in London at my brother’s place. Frankly, I have a sense that somewhere inside me my soul is dithering at a crossroads, not sure which way to go – back the way it came, to stick out its thumb and see where fate might take it, or to just keep on moving, anywhere, and see what happens.
~ • ~
I wrote the words above as I headed off to the fifth bedroom of this trip, sitting on a train taking me to a fortnight in a remote cottage in Devon. There on a moving vehicle I recognized I felt a modicum of peace, alone in a carriage, with my book, my green tea and my laptop. I scarcely noticed the green fields, fluffed with elderflower nor the surprise of a beach outside my window. I could relax into the constant motion that cocooned me. It was here that my eyes, ears and body were able, at last, to experience the transition from one place to another more fully than in a darkened plane. It is here that my body can sit still while the world slides past the window to my left. It was here that my soul could enjoy a rare five hour window in which to catch me up.