Fernweh (literally, “far away” + “pain”) is an ache for distant places, and a longing to return to a place where one belongs. It is the yearning to find or remember home, physically or spiritually, even if it takes a lifetime of searching.
No, Fernweh is not just another German word for Wanderlust. Wanderlust is exciting, whimsical, fun, and energizing. It is the Zeitgeist of the social media economy that motivates everyone to make their Top Ten Listicles and “live their best life.”
No, Fernweh is not what someone who calls themselves a “gypsy” feels every time they go on vacation or on a road trip. The usage of that word outside of historical contexts indicates ignorance and makes me cringe.
Fernweh can be devastating.
Roma people call this type of longing Lungo Drom, the Long Road. In Isabel Fonseca’s fascinating book Bury Me Standing: The [Gypsies] and Their Journey, she shares a passage from her interviews with self-acknowledged historical “gypsies” in the Balkans about how they express these feelings through music:
“Like most [gypsy] songs, they were equally plangent in tone and in subject: they spoke of rootlessness and the lungo drom, or long road, of no particular place to go- and of no turning back. Nostalgia is the essence… and seems always to have been. But nostalgia for what? … Perhaps it is the yearning itself which is celebrated, even a yearning for a past one never had (the most powerful kind). Such yearning is the impetus to travel.”
This phenomenon similar to Fernweh is a common thread between other itinerant people around the world, further compounded where political climates and society pushes them on with force.
It isn’t that I am not mindful, or that I am not grateful for my life. It isn’t a case of “the Grass is Greener” or that I don’t strive to make the best of every moment. I have a wonderful family, home, career, and more.
I am careful to practice mindfulness and speak gratitude over every arena of my life. I am constantly searching for wonder and magic in the small things, wherever I may be.
But there is a disconnect between mind, body, and spirit that always makes me feel like I am somewhere else. Or that I should be.
Absorbing new places and experiences is how I quell the ache, whether I am circling the globe and back, or driving through small towns in the region I live in. This feeling of searching is what propels me to maintain the rest of my life, and being able to indulge keeps me grounded.
Perhaps some day this will change when I find myself at home in the right city or in some hobby. Or with another human. If I am perfectly honest, I often wish that was the antidote. Until then I will keep moving with the forces that pull me in all directions down this long road.
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