This post transported me back to the early days after moving to this town. When it was all new and foreign and different. We wanted out. We were not going to have children here, not going to buy a house here, definitely not going to send the kids to school here. Twelve years later here we are. Still here.
The town has changed in some ways; it’s a little prettier, has sprawled and is more crowded. There are signs of community at work, in town councils and civil initiatives. The shopkeepers are still rude and believe a customer only comes once (perhaps because of the atrocious service?). The tourist buses pass through more frequently. There is a single cinema where there were once two.
We have changed, doubled in numbers with both young ones in school. We bought our house and built a wall. We are aware of the advantages of living here; terrific views, a house and garden a walk from the straits, good schools, a quiet life. But our roots are shallow.
We are known at the fish shop, nodded at in the supermarket, recognised by our car. We have assimilated into the school community (only little more than a week to go before we reconnect!). We have settled into work. But we are at a remove. There are many reasons for this; living a little outside town, a strange atmosphere in work, hideous traffic downtown, a joy in being just by ourselves.
Reading about Seamus Heaney in the days since his death, it struck me how much a part of communal life he was. He knew his roots. He spent his life examining them and in the process strengthening them, inviting the world to feel part of them. But with those roots firmly planted, he took off into university life, to the States, to Dublin, to the Nobel. He gave generously of his time and became such a feature of arts gatherings in Ireland it’s hard to conceive of one without him.
I am floating, suspended somewhere between Ireland and Turkey. In this internet age living a dual (or more) existence is more and more common. This has little to do with the physical location we live in, that may always have some disadvantages. And if it does we can live too much in a place that doesn’t exist, spread between all our interests and not alive to the world immediately around us.
In many of Seamus Heaney’s poems the physical world takes centre stage. His descriptions are distilled so we feel and smell and hear. The musician’s tune, the spade through soil, the physical act of peeling potatos, all gain a larger relevance to the spiritual life of the poet and his readers. Again rooted, he takes flight and brings us with him.
Living in a less-than-optimal location, for any reason, affects moods, interests and even personality. It can block creativity or spark it into existence. The internet can make us feel part of a distant community or emphasise just how far away we are. In this interconnected age, the paradox that physical location matters so little, while still affecting us so much, is an uncomfortable truth.