This week we welcome Renata Harper, author of the Expat-Living.info Guide to Cape Town, to Expat Nest. After following her heart abroad a few years ago, Renata found herself experiencing a new kind of missing that surprised her; one that has since led to profound change in her life. Now back in her home country of South Africa, she gives thanks for the opportunity she had “to miss”… and suggests that what we miss most might be the greatest clues to who we really are.
All of us know the feeling of missing – a loved one (person or pet) who has passed; a best friend who moves to another school; a favourite book, toy or memento forever lost; a garden sanctuary that someone else discovered.
For expats, missing is a familiar friend, or foe…
Sometimes we carry it lightly, other times it keeps us weighted down to the ground. I like to think of the kinds of missing as being like the seasons. There is the gentle tug at the heartstrings, which can be cured by a moment of play or a phone call to a best friend. There is the deep nostalgia, which leads us to pause and tends to pass in its own time. There is the cold and brittle ache, which supported inner work can help to soften. And then there is the wild and throaty missing, a call – or calling – that needs to be answered, usually with renewal and transformation.
What I missed during my two years in the Netherlands was of the latter kind – and it took me by surprise. During work breaks, I’d switch on “Animal Planet” or “National Geographic” and find myself enraptured, then in ridiculous floods of tears. I was longing for wildness, wild creatures, and the sense of belonging and perspective they give me.
What missing meant for me
Of course, it was only by leaving home that I could found myself missing something I hadn’t even known was essential to who I am. And in moving away from it, I was able to then move – consciously and mindfully – back towards it. How did I do this?
First, so I could give back to animals, I volunteered at a cat sanctuary that was in cycling distance from our tiny apartment in Amsterdam (a highlight of my expat experience). Then, two years in, I headed home, where I’m able to spend more time in wild places and where I am slowly changing the direction of my writing to reflect my passion for honouring the natural world.
Becoming aware of the key role wilderness plays in my life has also helped me to accept my need to return home. It has helped me understand that I didn’t “fail” by not being completely happy in the Netherlands and that the country didn’t fail me. And, of course, there are things I miss about Holland too, like transparent governance, high levels of personal safety, better animal welfare laws, and seeing my partner (now my husband, in case you were wondering) immersed in his “first life”.
Global nomads will both gain and miss something from wherever we’ve been… But might it be that all the “missings”, however painful, are clues to what our fullest selves look and feel like? I think so.
What do you miss the most? How do you deal with the different kinds of longing? We would love to hear your story.
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