Homesickness

 

The first time most people miss home is when they move to a new city as a kid. Some experience it when they leave for college or finally vacate their parent’s house. On occasion, friends or family are the home that we miss, even if we don’t change locations. Whenever we finally part ways from a person or place that we cherish, we feel the rift that follows. At times, it may feel that by moving on or leaving the place we grew up, we are discarding the memories that we created there.

How can you move forward while keeping true to your roots?

 

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Rat and Mole stumble upon Mole End.

 

The Wind in the Willows, a quirky Victorian tale written by Kenneth Grahame, follows the story of Mole as he leaves his underground home for the first time. He stumbles upon Rat, a savvy sailor and river dweller, and experiences the vast variety in life above ground while living and traveling together. The friends run into dangerous circumstances, interesting fellow animals, and a spot of trouble with human laws and the lawless bandits that lurk about.

 

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A wealthy and eccentric neighbor, Toad of Toad Hall, consistently causes problems in the community with his obsessive whims that range from boating to motor cars.

 

From grand halls to cozy dens to his own beautiful abode, Mole’s view explores the excitement of travel and new places while respecting the deep feelings he holds for his home. The true magic of the story for those who long for the familiar lies in the chapters that explore those emotions in their variety and depth.

Christopher Robin Milne, son of Winnie the Pooh‘s author A. A. Milne, had fond memories of the role this novel played in his family while growing up. In an autobiography called The Enchanted Places, he recalled:

A book that we all greatly loved and admired and read aloud or alone, over and over and over: The Wind in the Willows. This book is, in a way, two separate books put into one. There are, on the one hand, those chapters concerned with the adventures of Toad; and on the other hand there are those chapters that explore human emotions—the emotions of fear, nostalgia, awe, wanderlust. My mother was drawn to the second group, of which “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” was her favourite, read to me again and again with always, towards the end, the catch in the voice and the long pause to find her handkerchief and blow her nose. My father, on his side, was so captivated by the first group that he turned these chapters into the children’s play, Toad of Toad Hall. In this play one emotion only is allowed to creep in: nostalgia.

Personally, one of my favorite chapters is “Dolce Domum,” in which Mole returns to his home after his episode of wanderlust. He is able to tell by smell that he his nearby, and the scent of the familiar breaks his heart so that he must return. This visceral reminder of something treasured really strikes a chord with me, because I have experienced that same pause and longing when you unexpectedly encounter a song, or a smell, or a particular turn of phrase that reminds you of a beloved person or place.

Balancing the desire to return back with the need to adapt to a new place is a healthy way to find peace in changing circumstances. It’s okay to acknowledge that you miss your mom or your childhood bedroom and call her more often or frame that tattered poster that used to hang in your room. While I don’t advise that you live your life with complete abandon and wanderlust, being open to the changing tides of life, good and bad, can help if you need some courage to get out into the world. Say yes to experiences that are outside of your comfort zone, but that will ultimately benefit and strengthen you. With Mole as an unlikely guide, picking up this treasured classic could be the salve you need if you find yourself lost in your desire for your old haunts.

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p.s. – The version illustrated by David Petersen, seen above, is beautifully drawn. He also wrote a graphic novel series called Mouse Guard that is equally beautiful.

–Meg

Dealing with Political Disagreements in the Family

In light of the election that took place close to a year ago, many of my Facebook friends have either confided in me or screamed to social media about their dismay in the political choices and ideology of friends and family. While the derision of the another’s party line is a time-honored tradition, the raw anger and hurt seem unique to this particular cycle.

How should you react when you reach the breaking point in your interactions?

At what point can you maintain a functional relationship with someone who you feel believes the antithesis of your own morals?

These are questions debated on both sides of the aisle. They appear to be solved by a single action: unfriend and unfollow those who don’t agree with you.

Let me recommend a quick read before you push that button: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. This short sophomore sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird is perfect for those of you who have little emotional energy left to deal with those who you feel are sorely out of touch with reality. Readers of To Kill a Mockingbird will recognize the protagonist, an adult Jean Louise (or Scout, if you grew up with her) and her father, the groundbreaking lawyer Atticus Finch, who was able to prove a young black man innocent in a small Jim Crow-run southern town. While home for a two-week-long vacation, Jean Louise stumbles across some unsavory reading material in her father’s house, leading to a discovery that shakes her opinion of her father forever.

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The crux of the novel focuses on the same questions asked by many today: How do you love someone who believes everything you hate?

Many of us tend to close ourselves off to the opposing side, creating echo chambers that repeat our pinions back to us like Narcissus staring at his own reflection in the river. (or Facebook feed). It’s easy to like things that we already agree with. If viewing content from the other side stirs anger, this book is for you.

Many of you already know the cliff-notes version of Atticus’s opinions and have refrained from reading this book in order to preserve a beloved idol’s destruction. Do yourself a favor and read Go Set a Watchman cover to cover. You may need the bitter downfall and bittersweet catharsis as much as Jean Louise did.

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p.s. – For readers who have difficulties in understanding race relations today and the emotional labor involved in educating white folks, observe the differences between Jean Louise’s interactions with her uncle and Calpurnia. White women’s tears are a notable literary trope and actual occurrence that Lee uses in order to display the changing attitudes of Black Americans as they start to shake off the Jim Crow Era chains and work towards the Civil Rights Movement. Calpurnia’s coldness is juxtaposed with her warmth in To Kill a Mockingbird as much as Atticus’s politics are. She isn’t wrong for being this way, either.

–Meg