In his collection of essays The Thing, G.K Chesterton wrote, “Happiness is not only a hope, but also in some strange manner a memory … we are all kings in exile.” I have been wrestling with a deep sense of longing for a place that, as far as can tell, I have never actually been too. I am not the first person to have waded through feelings like these. When I turned to my favourite authors I found my sentiments echoed in their writings. C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Having lived in Berlin for almost four years I cannot help but make something that Charlotte Perkins Gilman said about New York my urban jungle’s own: Berlin – that unnatural city where everyone is an exile, none more so than the German. I think that everyone who lives in this ocean of concrete, where countless foreign languages wash over you in daily and young hearts run wild but not free, has had moments where they feel like an exile or an alien.We long for a place we cannot quite remember as the city’s sound and fury claws at our hearts and minds.
In his Poems of Exile Ovid says, “Our native soil draws all of us, by I know not what sweetness, and never allows us to forget.” But where is home? Do we really know where we so desperately want to return? Albert Camus describes this beautifully, “That sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else to speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire.”
Mahmoud Darwish still seems to put my sense of exile into words most aptly so I will leave you with some of his words:
“I am from there. I am from here.
I am not there and I am not here.
I have two names, which meet and part,
and I have two languages.
I forget which of them I dream in.”