Dépaysé (pronounced day-pay-e-zay) is a French word that literally means outside of one’s own country. But its contextual meaning isn’t so much geographic as it is emotional or psychological. To be dépaysé is to be removed from familiar surroundings; disoriented; adrift. And that’s where I was a few nights ago.
So, in the wee hours of the next morning, the first question I asked myself was “Why? Why am I feeling so dépaysé” “Maybe,” I said to myself, “it’s because you’re away on vacation—a week at the beach with the family, followed by a week visiting good friends up in New England—so you’re removed from the rhymes and rhythms of your routine.” OK; fair enough. There’s more than enough angst to go around on a vacation: a heavy table fell on my toe; my wife’s shoulder is bothering her; there’s pink eye afoot in the house; and driving up and down I-95 makes fire-walking look like a cakewalk. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?
But I think there may be another explanation for the way I was feeling: I’m approaching yet another birthday and the beating of my heart is beginning to sound a lot more like the ticking of an old grandfather clock these days. As we age, we become more gelled in our routines, or, as Paul Simon so eloquently once sang, we “like to lean on old, familiar ways.” But Paul came to another conclusion; he was happy enough to be “still crazy after all these years.” I’m not sure that’s the outcome I’m looking for.
If the feeling of dépaysé were a disease, what would be the cure? Better yet, is there an antidote or a vaccine? Travel may be an expansive experience, but returning to a more familiar landscape has a certain comfort to it. Home. At some point in the aging process, the familiar becomes the comfortable, the known trumps the unknown. I guess I’m getting close to that border.
I remember that as my mother passed the age of 90, she downsized. All she needed was a comfortable chair, soft light, and a good book. An inveterate reader, she did all her traveling by turning pages and never again left the comfort of her smaller rooms. Her body may have been shrinking but her mind kept expanding, spreading across oceans and continents to the very limits of the universe. At the time, I may have scoffed at her retreat, but now I understand it. Someday soon, I may even embrace it.
So, as dépaysé as I might have felt, I know there are still worlds to explore, borders to cross. The wee wife and I were thinking about going to Italy this fall, but that pesky Delta virus has deterred us. Maybe we’ll go next year, unless some nasty new viral strain raises its ugly little head to lock us down yet again.
In the meantime, I’ve shaken off this feeling of dépaysé and am enjoying these happy vacation days with family and friends. I can always come home later.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown, MD. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com