Fernweh is a German word that means, among other things, farsickness. Or, much more simply, wanderlust. Where wanderlust assumes just a desire to travel and see new places, farsickness — and I can really relate to this concept — it implies a restless need to be Somewhere Else Soon; a heartfelt ache to be in a place other than the immediate and familiar; a need to see, hear, smell, touch, taste things which are as yet unknown; a feeling that where your stuff is might be just a stopping point in-between adventures, however wide that gap; a feeling that home is more about a connection you feel to a person (or a people), a place or a space, than a physical, tangible abode.
I remarked to a friend recently that I felt ‘fromless’*
What I meant was that where I live now is a place that is not where I’m from. And where I’m from holds not much for me in the way of nostalgia. The home in which I spent most of my childhood has long since been that which other families’ kids called theirs. That neighborhood has sprawled and morphed into something I don’t even recognise (or care to). The girl scout house that sat behind mine when I was of girl scouting ilk has long since become McMansionized. The New York City co-op that was my alternate home after my parents’ split has long since been occupied by nouvelle Lenox Hill up-and-comers.
So northward I came for college and it stuck; or I did, as it were.
Then there were the myriad dorms and sublets and rentals which sufficed for home. And the fabulous flat in the South End with the exposed brick in a bubbling, pulsing, slightly gritty neighborhood and fabulous Sunday scones right down the block. And the house in the suburbs which was, by all accounts, its antithesis. And the also-fabulous flat with its exposed brick and brilliant light, mere blocks to the beach and a painless train ride into Boston; and Saturday egg sandwiches — or scones, which are good but not quite the same as the ones from Claremont Café.
And those were all places to live and play and work and grow and learn. But they’re not where I’m from.
Because where I’m from doesn’t exist anymore. Which is a dismally crushing realisation when you’re feeling drawn to parts unknown. Liberating in its pull, perhaps, in that it’s within a conceivable fantasy to Sell It All (or most; there’s always storage) and heed the call of the far-reaching ends of the world. And devastating as a chaser because when you come back, where do you go? Where is “back?” And why? Why there? Why here?
So the second brick-walled flat with its high ceilings and rustic charm becomes, if not where you’re from, then where you’re at. Where you stay becomes as much like home as any other place that might vie for the designation.
And where you feel most at peace maybe, just maybe, becomes where you’re from.
Here’s where I think Fernweh makes its mark: It calls you to seek out what’s important. It makes you curious, and perhaps even a little fearless. It draws you to identify that which provides a sense of comfort and ease and well-being and inspiration and fullness. It compels you to distinguish what categorically does not.
While being fromless will never go away, having farsickness is perhaps what the doctor can neither diagnose nor cure. And that, I think, is a good thing.
*As far as I can tell, I’ve coined the term fromless. If it becomes a thing, I’d like credit. Merci.
Also. If you liked this piece, please give it a 👏👏 or several… It will make me feel good and will help get these thoughts out into the world. I’ve cross-posted it on my blog, lesliwoodruff.com, where you can read more of my ramblings and travelogues.