Stejskalova - vb to miss something or someone of great importance
Home, some might say, is what’s most familiar, where one feels comfortable and can unwind. As I am settling into my 17th address, I keep observing the correlation between becoming familiar with a place and feeling at home. Perhaps that is stating the obvious.
One becomes familiar with the particular way the key must be jiggled and turned in order to open the door to one’s new house. The sounds of trees, cars, people, animals, air echoing on different surfaces begin to create a familiar symphony. The temperature, pressure, moisture, of the air also begin to envelop you in familiarity. The light of the sky, the clouds, the reflection of sun begin to take on familiar hues. And then there are the big obvious things like buildings, streets, stores and people to which one grows accustomed. With familiarity grows comfort, a sense of knowing what we might expect, and in some cases a developing fondness, while with others irritation, and some of all the new stimuli just fades into a general background obscured with indifference. To be clear, a new place does not become home just by virtue of familiarity, but home certainly has a great degree of it.
It is this familiarity, especially the one we have acquired a fondness for, that we miss an old home when on a quest for a new one. It becomes a feeling of melancholy, nostalgia, a feeling, that in my experience we don’t really have a good word for in English. In Czech the word is “styskat”, which is usually translated “to miss.” It is a verb, an action, a process one experiences. This word in Czech is very specific, and within its meaning it already contains the implication that we are missing something or someone extremely dear to us. It is not used in casual statements such as “I am missing my umbrella.” One would “styskat” specifically for one’s home or one’s family. Not for the cooking of their mother, not for their favorite sweater. The object of “styskani” is animate, filled with life and combined with the fondness of the one doing the missing. “Styskat,” in my experience, is the other side of “home.”
I raised the possibility that all this questioning and searching for home might be my karma. Indeed, I think that is more than a little possible. My last name is a direct derivation of “styskat.” Stejskalova. The core of my last name contains the sentiment of missing something very dear. I am very familiar with this sentiment. I remember first feeling it before I even knew there was anything other than home. I hadn’t even gone anywhere but home yet, and already I had the feeling of “styskat.”
I was about 4 or maybe 5. I was in the “big kids” grade of a state sponsored day care center mandatory for all pre-school children in Czechoslovakia. Our moms dropped us off during the pre-dawn hours, before they scurried to work in the enormous Bata shoe factory that provided the infrastructure of our city. We laid on wooded lounge chairs, all our bodies facing the same direction, waiting for the sun to come up, for all the children to arrive, for the teachers to rouse us into the day’s communal schedule. I laid closest to the door, facing it, the way all the children behind me laid like horizontal dominoes. That was when I felt it first: missing something very deeply. It was in my chest somewhere, not as low as my belly, not as high as my heart. It felt deeper than an emotion. It was almost like hunger, or thirst; it felt almost physiological. I remember really examining this feeling, thinking “I just ate, this can’t be hunger.” It was strange, yet completely familiar. I analyzed it, trying to name it, not quite succeeding.
That feeling of styskat, of missing something very dear and important, something that one can’t quite grasp, is the flip side of home. The object of styskat is illusive, just as home is illusive. And therefore, it leads me to susptect that this question of what is home, is not just being asked by kids who moved a lot, or by immigrants, or by people with last name “Stejskal.” It is an experience much more fundamental to human nature: the yearning for going home. I specifically do not say for “being” home. We are much more attracted to the journey, the process of returning home, something familiar to us all, and yet a place we may not even remember. We know we are home when we feel it. When we peacefully lay in the arms of one we are in love with, and all seems right in the world, we are home. When we have an intimate conversation with a friend we have known through life’s hardships, we are home. When eat a meal with our parents, in conversation or silence, we are home.