Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Internalizing Home

Call me a “Navy brat”; call me a wanderer; call me a nomad. There are a plethora of words that can be used interchangeably to describe what normally comes to mind when one thinks of a “Navy brat”. That term does not necessarily have a negative connotation but certain attributes have been given to it. When one thinks of a Navy brat, an image of a sheltered, socially inept, and highly disciplined kid pops into mind. Parents of this “Navy brat” are often frowned upon. People wonder how those parents could put their kids through such a hard time growing up and they get uncomfortable around the high expectations and standards that the children are held to. It is almost as if outsiders are expecting something reminiscent of The Sound of Music.
What people fail to realize is that the constant moves, the uncertainty of whether or not this “home” will last for a year or five, the new faces, schools, relationships- all of these are not necessarily negative. In fact, one of the most important things that I have only just recently begun to understand and appreciate is just how much being a “Navy brat” has shaped me as a young adult. I can take some of the lessons that I learned through experience and use them as a source of strength and self-definition.
Because of my many relocations, there is not one place that I can truly say is my home in the usual definition of the word. I was born in Charleston and spent some time there. Does that make it my home? My first vivid childhood memories come from Portland. Is that where my home is? Our family enjoyed a relatively long (five year) stay in Maryland. Should my home be where I spent the most time? I finished three years of high school in Seattle, had my first real relationship there, and made the closest friends. Is that enough to constitute a home?
No. That is the most clear and concise answer to all of those questions. Throughout the many moves, family life and my relationships with siblings and parents were the one constant. Concurrently those connections have grown incredibly strong. Whenever I am struggling, I know that I have at least one person that I can turn to and know that they will understand me completely and will always be there for me. That is the most important lesson being a “Navy brat” has taught me. I can feel completely home anywhere in the world because that term, “home,” has been internalized. Physical surroundings are not nearly as important as family bonds and as long as those exist, a home in the normal sense takes second place.
One of the major points in "Things Fall Apart," is the intensely close-knit family and resulting close-knit tribe. The Igbo people are lucky in the fact that they have this tradition of strong family values. When Okonkwo is banished from the Igbo lands, it is a family connection that allows him to continue to prosper, provide for his family, and continue his life. He returns to his "motherland" and even though it had been many years since he had visited or even talked with that side of his family, they understood that someone related to them was in trouble, and they went out of their way to accomodate and make him feel welcome. Also, Achebe describes how Okonkwo feels exiled and that he is wallowing in a quagmire of self-despair and self-deprecation, his immediate family manages to make it through the exile because they rely on each other. Those relationships and the way his family dealt with the exile years reminds me of the way my family functions.

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