Hero Awaiting the Return of Leander, 1885, by Evelyn De Morgan.
Hero Awaiting the Return of Leander, 1885, by Evelyn De Morgan.

“I too have known the inward disturbance of exile,

The great peril of being at home nowhere,

The dispersed center, the dividing love;

Not here, nor there …”

– May Sarton, From All Our Journeys

In Plant Dreaming Deep, Sarton writes that, despite teaching at various American universities and living in university town, she still didn’t feel rooted where she was.

“What I meant by “life” was still rooted in Europe,” she writes. “During those years I went back whenever I could to the strong ties in England, France, Belgium, and Switzerland. I had not yet cut the umbilical cord.”

Then she asks the essential questions:

“And how long would the life in me stay alive if it did not find new roots?”

“If ‘home’ can be anywhere, how is one to look for it, where is one to find it?”

Ariadne in Naxos, 1877, by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan. (Images courtesy of Wiki-Commons)
Ariadne in Naxos, 1877, by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan. (Images courtesy of Wiki-Commons)

I know that feeling, too, of being uprooted and feeling the exile, and the disturbance and deep longing inherent in that uprootedness.

First, and significantly, from childhood experience when my own sense and experience of home was shattered; and again when I uprooted in 2008 from my long-time home in San Francisco, a place that I love and for which I felt a deep, almost ancient connection.

Though I ‘came East’, returning to the Northeastern U.S., where I grew up and many generations of ancestors had lived, I still felt uprooted, unmoored, and rootless for the years following my return, and perhaps even still.

As Sarton suggests, having lived ‘out West’ for twenty years, I had not cut the umbilical cord to that place, San Francisco, and all of the living that it held and what it symbolized for me.

Flora, 1894, by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan (Image from Wiki-Commons)
Flora, 1894, by Evelyn Pickering De Morgan (Image from Wiki-Commons)

Neither here, nor there …

Many of us have ancestors who knew that disorienting exile, who had the experience of being torn out by the roots of the place that generations had called home, and of the culture and its deep-rooted knowing, too, whether through diaspora, circumstance-forced migration, invasions, wars, and so on.

Their exile and longing for home lives in our very cells and bones, and we hear those voices like a Siren Song, calling us to remembrance, to piece together again the fabric of that ancestral tapestry that was torn or shredded.

It’s true though, what Sarton also knew: That our life, just like the plants, requires that we sink our roots deep — with source, within ourselves, with the place we find ourselves, and with our ancestral roots.

So we return to the questions that Sarton, too, asks as she reflects on this feeling of exile:

“And how long would the life in me stay alive if it did not find new roots?”

“If ‘home’ can be anywhere, how is one to look for it, where is one to find it?”

More on these and other Home & Exile themes coming up — it’s a rich area of exploration and reflection, and key to “dreaming deep” and re-rooting from right where we stand.

Big Love,

Jamie