By Ingram Wilson
A homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was. The yearning, the nostalgia, the grief for the lost places of your past.
To say that I was not on the best of speaking terms with my estranged father when I set off for New York would be an understatement. My relationship with him had always been seasonal.
I had been accepted for the Mountbatten programme, an international business programme for graduates to live and work for one year in New York City. This was an exciting opportunity for me and would change my life forever. I left Scotland with a suitcase of dreams, hopes and optimism. Blue skies all the way, the only dark cloud was my father’s silence and resentment.
I think that it was for this reason that his sister, my aunt Julie, promised me that she would keep in constant touch with me, somehow making up for her brother’s disappointing behaviour. We agreed that she would send me a word…just one word, weekly, every Sunday.
Stepping into my first big yellow taxi from the airport to my temporary hotel, I was already looking forward to receiving that vital link with home.
As promised, a word would arrive in my inbox every Sunday, sometimes I would give it no more than a cursory glance, a quick look at it as I hurried across 5th Avenue.
Other times, I would savour the moment and sit with the word as long as I could, as it reminded me of home, black pudding suppers, tartan and the screaming swirl of the bagpipes (not).
Lochs, hills and Glens were sadly lacking in this buzzing 24-hour city and for the first time in my young life I missed them; the open spaces, the smirry rain that was our summer, god I even missed the midgies.
I noticed that, as I daydreamed with the word, tears would roll gently and silently across my cheeks and I would smile and then get back to the hustle and bustle.
My friends noticed but said nothing as we sat in the outlandish and bohemian Brooklyn bars and bistros, a far cry from our locals back home.
The word became my emotional anchor, my compass, the hour glass marking off the 365 days that I spent as a Mountbatten.
Evocative, curios, mesmerizing… Some words were familiar to me, others I had to find in the dictionary. Who knew that Julie was such a wordsmith? Had she picked them at random or had she spent time and research and carefully selected words which she knew would offer me some solace and support.
No matter, the words flowed across the Atlantic sky, dodging clouds and the wild Canadian geese, on their final destination my inbox.
With all the wonders of social media and modern day technology, my mind would drift to the furious fast-paced advancement of the human race and our rush to discover more and more – to push back international boundaries, expand our networks whilst shrinking the distances between us. What was once unimaginable was now obsolete. With a quick send click, expats were invited into their homes back in ‘the old country’. To celebrate in ‘real time’ with their families and friends. To share loss and sadness, almost as it happens.
There was no opportunity to become homesick as the words continued to arrive faithfully.
On busy Sundays I would save the word, savouring ‘the wait’ until I eventually read it. Knowing that it was there, waiting for me, was so comforting. It would nurse me through my, now routine, hangovers.
The word established a lofty constant reminder of why I was in New York, what I had set out to achieve.
I set up a folder to save up the words; they became a record of my journey of self discovery, all my adventures. Reckless moments were reprimanded by a swift glance. Celebrations applauded.
On misty Saturday mornings in September I would sit in Central Park beside Strawberry Fields. I could never be honest enough to admit whether it was the watery sunlight or my tear filled eyes that made those words swim before me. And as the tears caressed me I would be reminded of the words in John Lennon’s song “Living is easy with eyes closed”. Then, before I knew it, the spell would be broken by the incessant horns of the taxis as they ferried folks all over this bagel-filled city.
My collection grew – a connoisseur’s encyclopaedia, a literary bank which could never be measured in monetary terms.
The strong, silent force which bound me to my folks back home kept me safe and warm. The words both comforted me and challenged me to succeed. I was inspired to write and create memories of what had become my new home. Lasting memories became entwined in my mind, threading together my life in this great city with my past.
And as the Atlantic sky made up the distance between us, I was mindful that the greater power lay with the one magician who gave us the gift to be one, to share love and to breathe the same air, to share the same sky and to be only a heartbeat away from the people we loved.
I know the value of the word; it is the currency I share with my aunt.
Unspoken until now.