Michael Brown

The Paradise Wars and Clark Ransom Thrillers

In the Midst of Mass Migration, What is Home?

The past is a country from which we have all emigrated …
— Salmon Rushdie

This quote brings to mind the immense human migration going on in the Mideast and Asia, where thousands are leaving the past and homes behind, as well as the personal journeys each of us take.

Syrian and Iraqui Refugees Arrive in Greece

Syrian and Iraqi Refugees Arrive in Greece wikipedia.org

My Migration Home

From my earliest days my family moved often; I witnessed others feeling at home. I waited to belong. In the twelve years before college, I went to as many schools in as many places. I haunted our Atlas, hoping to turn the perpetual loss of friends into adventure.

I made many friends, but making friends wasn’t the same thing as feeling at home. To this day, even among the closest friends, I witness, rather than belong.

Is this an aberrant state? Or does everyone feel this way? Or is it this feeling apart that has made me a writer, and in turn has made writing a home?

Going out into the world has been my Odyssey. First as a child moving from place to place, then as an adult from job to job, from desire to desire, always returning to my writing.

The Odyssey as a Migration Paradigm

Is it necessary to feel there is somewhere called home in order to have an Odyssey: a circular journey?

The Odyssey is a metaphor for journeys towards unification: the evolution of unity to multiplicity and back to unity again. Or the evolution of the unified consciousness of a child out into the world and its many relations to return to a higher unity as a member of humanity.

But for the child to realize that return, the child must be raised in a safe home, to feel there is a home — an Ithaca — to which he can return.

And for the two-thirds of humanity that believes in reincarnation, a particular incarnation can be a departure from knowing who one is to striking out and conquering the unknown and returning with a larger sense of what is possible, ready to be reborn at a higher turn of the spiral.

A New Home in Mexico

Mexico became part of my Odyssey

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.
― William Faulkner

San Miguel de Allende has become my place out of the rain.

My father started talking about moving to Mexico, Guadalajara, about five years before he retired from the army. My mother thought he was nuts, and my sister and I, who mistook my mother’s fear for wisdom, agreed.

So instead, after a career of moving us from Colorado to Kansas to Missouri back to Colorado to Germany to Los Angeles, he retired in San Francisco. He still mentioned Mexico, as if it were a faded dream. He began to go off during the day and sometimes at night on journeys in his red Volkswagen bug to destinations he alone knew.

My father ran from the violence of his upbringing in Englewood, Colorado, I’m sure more rural than suburb in the 20s and 30s. When his father died, my father underaged signed up and went off to World War II. This was the beginning of his Odyssey.

However, unlike Ulysses, when his wars were over nowhere felt like home.

Is Home a Way Station or a Final Rest?

Tom has made a home for me. My gratitude is beyond words. With Tom, it was easy to stay forty years in Rhode Island and grow my career. But all that time in Rhode Island, I yearned for greater vistas, vistas from mountain tops. New England’s scale felt small. Then a conspiracy of events brought us to Mexico with our house on the mountain and vistas to the horizon.

Now home includes a second language, Spanish, as it did when as a pre-schooler my Belgian mother and grandmother spoke French as our first language at home.

There has to be a reason for so much travel, for a life defined by the use of English, yet bracketed by two other languages, doesn’t there?

Ulysses returned from the wars to find his home under siege and his wife Penelope, representative of the sense of home for which he longed, holding off suitors. He returned to find his home about to be usurped by others.

Is the end of the Odyssey a metaphor for end-of-life? In old age, our travels complete, we long for the peace and contentment of a life well lived, and instead we find usurpers everywhere: regrets, ill health, ghosts of enemies and friends alike?

Ulysses having lost all of his sailing companions, companions on his life’s journey, returns to Ithaca to slay all of the usurpers. It is a raging:

Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light …
— Dylan Thomas

I hope the dying of the light is a distant event for all of us, as indivuals and as a species. Yet, that dying’s inevitability defines our most obvious common ground.

TV gives us images of those Greek beaches, which spawned the legacy of Odysseus, now lined with abandoned life jackets as thousands are forced to make an unexpected and unwanted journey towards new definitions of home.

Let’s not turn away helpless, or thank our lucky stars. It is —it must be — our problem too.

Let him who has not a single speck of migration to blot his family escutcheon cast the first stone…if you didn’t migrate then your father did, and if your father didn’t need to move from place to place, then it was only because your grandfather before him had no choice but to go, put his old life behind him in search of the bread that his own land denied him…”
― José Saramago, The Notebook

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15 Replies

  1. Chris mccaskill

    First, let me compliment you–this is beautifully written.

    I am almost finished with Dave Eggers’ “what is the what” about the Sudanese Lost Boys–in novel form but based on hundreds of interviews.

    Not only is the migration of massive amounts of people horrific in its trauma and magnitude, but to think that some spent 7 years or more in fenced, dusty refugee camps with inadequate food, water or purpose…and, if “permanently” relocated, never found a sense of belonging.

  2. patric gordon

    Mike, Yes, beautifully written.
    When pondering the state of the world these days, one has to wonder if the new norm for the concept of a “Home” has changed or returned to what is the reality. Home being a place that they’ll let you rest your weary head. What is home?
    Mike, Thank you for your blog, it is enjoyed.
    Your Friend
    Pat Gordon

  3. Michael Brown

    I know I am so remiss. I have never read anything by Eggers, and I so want to. This was a good prompt.

  4. Lori

    I am sure your ship is still sailing through your life’s Odyssey… but, home will always be where your heart is!!! And like a few of us… we are adaptable to life’s changes… which makes the sailing more calm !!!

  5. Leslie Hall Pinder

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful piece of gorgeous writing.

  6. Michael Brown

    Thanks so much, Leslie. From you, this means a lot.

  7. Mike

    Hi Michael,

    Thank you.

    Mass Migration. For many birds and some animals, simply part of the the cycle of life, recurrent though harrowing. For people, ‘mass’ implies refugee tidings, tumultuous, desperate, and of course harrowing too.

    Whether personal adventure or mass exodus, whether hopeful or fearful, a homing instinct lies at the root of (e)migration. Seeking refuge or renewal, re-entry or reincarnation, we all eventually leave a nest.

    Synchronicity? Serendipity? Speaking up? Whatever. Reading this from your blog inspires me to share this poem I wrote a few months ago:

    an open ocean tug
    surging to safe harbor
    sunny side uplifted
    otter pups in a pool

  8. Michael Brown

    Thank so much to all who have commented. So glad these little essays elicit your well expressed response. Thanks. M

  9. Gerri Baruch

    Michael, such a fascinating concept and one I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. Helps to know how others feel.

  10. Esther Davis

    When I moved from a comfortable life style to a new job and a new city at the age of nearly 50 I was very fearful I would be a bag lady with no home. I did have 4 siblings who were loving and supportive so that had a feeling of “going home” if I needed to. As they passed away and I became more confident of my own ability of surviving it became more comfortable. I bought and sold several “homes” but to this day, after having traveled all over the world and thinking I could live in many of the locations, the memory of what it felt like to be afraid of not having a home haunts me. I still don’t know where it will feel “at home” and maybe some of us never do. To have to flee with only what one can carry as the immigrants are doing is unthinkable to most of us.
    Thanks Michael, for making us think about our journey through life!

  11. Gail

    Being first generation American the feeling of being uprooted and displaced I think is in my DNA. While my experience is nothing like my parents, that feeing of not being safe has been murmurring in the background all my life. Having dropped into the Land of Oz, SMA, I feel that my opportunity to Experience being home is a real possibility.
    Yet I still believe that only within my inner being will I ever experience emotional safety and security, and reaching out my hand and my heart to others and truly be connected will show me the path to that elusive home sweet home.

  12. Frank

    Interesting read. As a navy brat, my home always was a structure, and never a community. I can relate to your well-written prose.

  13. Maria Reyner

    What an exquisite meditation Michael. All too relevant on so many levels. Love the quote you end with.

  14. Esther Davis

    Hope you get this

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