Finding Belonging in the Space between Worlds


It’s 4am. Jet lag has once again insisted that I wake according to a time that is not in alignment with my current location. Sleep-wise, I am between worlds – hovering somewhere above the Atlantic, belonging neither in London’s wintery grey, nor California’s sunshiney morning.

Newly an ex-pat, am I now destined to live in that land between worlds? Not quite belonging in the country and culture I was born into, nor the one I have mysteriously found myself gravitating into?

And what even is it to belong?

Yesterday I hike the gentle slopes of Mt Tam with a new friend and looking out to San Francisco’s skyline from the ridge we have ascended I marvel at the fortune that has brought me into such intimacy with such extraordinary and abundant beauty.

As we breathe in the view, my new friend asks me what have been the biggest culture shocks of moving here. It is hard to know where to start: the subtle misunderstandings that abound through most days, the unexpected cravings for aspects of England that have been unappreciated familiar foundations to my living for so long.

I am so often surprised by what I have found alien as a new foreigner in town. Who knew that the brand of one’s groceries, or the taste of one’s toothpaste, or methods of on-line banking could feel so important.

But then I return “home” to London for Christmas. On arriving in Heathrow there is the immediate comfort of knowing exactly how everything works. No need for the information desk to get my ticket into London, nor cause for dismay when the train is delayed. I know exactly where to grab the best coffee, or in which aisle of which shop my favourite items lie.

And, yet for the two weeks I am there I feel an unsettling sense of displacement.

It seems belonging is no longer mine to claim here either.

And, I feel twinges of unexpected home-sickness for the view of the trees from my new bedroom window. And when, on New Year’s day, I step onto the plane heading West, I feel only relief to get on that plane and return back to the new life I’m building.

I am caught between lands, between worlds, between dreams. I know I must let go of the old to make way for the new. But I realize I may now never fully reside in either. The old has played too large a role in shaping the me now able to claim her new. It’s influence can never be discarded like a coat I no longer like.

And maybe I am learning this dark early morning, as my current world sleeps, that there is room in my closet for more than one coat. Contrary to the story I’ve been living in pursuit of my Californian dream, maybe my soul cares less for specific locations and geographies than I’ve previously thought.

Maybe my quest for the perfect fit and just one place to call home is a misguided wanting.

Maybe instead, it is variety of experience and a foot in both worlds that, at least in part, defines my particular place of belonging. Maybe my true home is in the space between worlds.

And You, I wonder? Where do you feel at home? What has you feel a genuine sense of belonging? How important is an actual geography to your own sense of home? I’m really curious to hear.

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  1. Hi Susannah, having lived for a year in a beautiful place in Spain, and then a year in a tranquil place in Italy, I find I’m filled with a longing to go back every time either place comes to mind. It wouldn’t be practical to go back and live in either place, and I’m really happy to be back in the UK but I can’t stop that ‘longing’ – it’s like I left a bit of me in both places.

  2. I so relate. I lived in Prague for 3 years and definitely left fragments of myself there. I think the longing is also for those past parts of ourselves that we can never recapture – the poignancy of nostalgia!

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