I have crossed the Atlantic on ships before, but usually it has been from west to east, Florida to Europe. My one crossing the other direction took me from London to Iceland and Greenland, an then to Montreal, which had a very different feel from just going straight over the course of five days, as I just did, from the Old World to the New.
This afternoon, the coast of Newfoundland showed up through a light dusting of hail on my balcony after a day of gale force winds and a fairly bouncy and choppy ride on the North Atlantic. I have gotten used to crossings and didn’t feel any sense of hallelujah at the sighting of land, but as I stood in the observation lounge on the ship overlooking the bow, I did feel a sense of camaraderie with the other people there, that we had all done this together.
When the ship was cleared by Canadian immigration around 5PM, surprisingly few people hurried down to go ashore to touch land, but i was one of them. I packed totally wrong for wet weather in the 40-50F degree temperature range, and overnight temperatures close to freezing. I hate cold feet, so I hurried off to an outdoor outfitters store to buy a pair of wool socks and waterproof shoes. I have both these things at home and it drives me crazy to duplicate things I rarely use, but I want to enjoy the rest of this trip with warm, dry feet, so enough said. It was funny though, because by the time I tried on shoes and got to the cashier, everyone in line was from the ship, having come away from home equally unprepared,
This is all a preamble to what I really want to say, and that is that at dinner tonight, by myself for a change, outdoors on the pool deck with heat lamps and blanket (my favorite solo venue), I got to thinking about what it means to have crossed from the Old to the New World. I felt a little giddy at the sense of being home. It was, of course, home in the most abstract of ways, because I am in Newfoundland, to which I have no personal connection.
Still, I found myself thinking about what it means to have one’s psyche formed in the New World. I don’t pretend to know what is it like to be raised in the British Isles or mainland Europe, but it seems to me that one must feel something about being the inheritor of well over a millennium of history, whereas I grew up in a culture where the meaningful past barely spans a generation or two.
I am part of a culture that traditionally has responded more to open spaces than boundaries. I know I am speaking from the privileged outlook of being white in the world of which I speak, but still, being of the New World does relieve one of at least some of the burden of history, as much as it equally leaves one adrift without much sense of history at all.
This continent opens itself to possibilities, is steeped in reinvention, and asks few questions about people’s pasts (tabloid journalism aside). I have been throughout my life so blessed with opportunities to change course, to change me. It almost seems a requirement in this culture to be dissatisfied, and a defect of personality or character not to do something about discontent. It can be a scary, insecure world indeed, but an exciting place if one is at home in it.
I left the town of my childhood at age 12, and moved again at 13 and 14 to new schools in new cities. Every time, I felt elation at being able to shed what I didn’t like about myself and embrace what I believed I was becoming. This rather nomadic life made me very comfortable with change, eager to try new things, and not particularly attached to anything. I think I would have done well as a pioneer in a former time. Now, in the 21st century, my pioneering means something different, keeping my life interesting, growing, and productive. Welcome home, I tell myself tonight, although part of being from the New World is to be home wherever I am.