“Not all those who wander are lost.”― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
I am on a train heading into Sydney with a group of people from various other countries. They are being familiarised with taking the train to Sydney. The irony is not lost on me. I am, in some ways, probably more scared than they are!
I don't know them. I am not part of their group, but I am part of their journey—as they are now part of mine. Why should I be scared, you might ask? I have been in this country for many years. I am, for all intents and purposes, a privileged English-speaking white woman.
The lady across from me is outlining future excursions: a cooking workshop, a day spent decorating boomerangs and learning about Aboriginal culture, a bicycle trip. I am a bit envious. They all seem so eager and fresh and young!
It brings back memories of my arrival in this country, of being plagued by a terror and a loneliness that threatened never to abate. Of course, I had the huge advantage of speaking the language, of understanding most (but not all!) of the customs, and the culture. With that, however, came assumptions. It was "understood" that I would fit in, that I needed no introduction, no explanation or assistance. And I felt obliged to hide my fears—to deny (even to myself) the depth of my insecurities, my isolation.
Everything felt similar yet different. I was painfully aware that the onus was squarely on my shoulders to fit in, to belong. There was no interest in where I was from. It was as though my life had begun upon arrival in this country. My homesickness seemed inappropriate—ungrateful even! I felt the unspoken truth of what wasn't said out loud but rather implied: This is your life now. You are lucky to be here. Remember, though, because you weren't born here, you're not really one of us!
I survived the homesickness, the loneliness, the fear. I found a job, made new friends, had children, bought a house. I am lucky to be here! I have a truly wonderful life. And yet, that fear of arrival in a strange place has never left me. I am eternally the stranger, the visitor, the foreigner. I can't quite settle and relax completely. Everything still, after all these years, feels tentative. I have to "work" at feeling like I'm a part of things. I can't (I don't) take it for granted. I still get lost easily. I have just learned, after all this time, to drive to the outskirts of Sydney. I'm not yet ready to drive in the city. I'm running out of time though. I dare not leave it too late!
I am still scared of many things: being alone, homesickness, sadness, getting lost. The people on this trip are young. They are brave. And they have much greater barriers to overcome. I am glad they have a guide! I am glad they have each other. I am hopeful they will find their way, that they will have wonderful lives. I am inspired by their joy, their curiosity, their willingness to explore. Perhaps, I will never really feel as though I "belong" here, but being the witness, the observer, the stranger, gives me an awareness that I wouldn't otherwise have. I notice things others take for granted. It has made me more tolerant, more sensitive, more empathetic, more understanding. In short, it has made me a better person!