Choosing not to live in Exile


I just got back from the beach . . . no, I’m not on vacation, I live near the beach and every day, weather and tide permitting, I bicycle down to the end of the road and go for a swim. Bicycling back today got me thinking, as rhythmic exercise tends to do, and I remembered the time, 40 years ago, that I moved to Cape Cod in the US from London. I had visited earlier that year, but when I arrived in Provincetown on August 10th, 1973 with just a suitcase, I had come to stay.
     My motive was the realization that I’d lived most of my life in exile. I was born in Wales, on the Pembrokeshire coast, and am Welsh going back generations, but we didn’t live there. My father was an officer in the Armed Forces, he’d stayed in after the war, and so we moved wherever he was posted. For four years in the 1950s we lived in Hong Kong. Getting there now is just a plane ride, but then it was a six-week-long voyage. I was so young I had no concept of what any other place looked like, but my mother would always talk of “home” longingly, and it always meant Wales.
     When we returned to the UK and lived at various places in England, home was still Wales. We migrated there every chance we had, escaping from the various housing estates the British Army had assigned us. When I went to boarding school at the age of 11, I most definitely felt exiled from home, but by then, home was more a sense of belonging rather than a physical place—it was where my parents and brother and dog lived, and boarding school was not it. Later there was another posting abroad, and more exile—my parents were living in Singapore and my bother and I were at boarding schools in different parts of the country.
     So when I discovered Provincetown and fell so deeply in love with it, a picturesque fishing town of white-painted wooden houses curved around a three-mile sandy beach and peopled with a lively mix of bohemians (or hippies as they were called in those days), Portuguese fisherman, Yankees, a colorful gay community, and people like me—creative drop-outs from “real life”—I felt right at home. And I decided that I was not going to live in exile anymore. I would not let the years pass, living in a grey and rainy city, planning my two weeks every summer in the place where I longed to be. I wanted to live there full-time, to live where my heart was. I made a vow to commit myself to this place, to this community. And that’s how I came to be here, and how it is that I can bicycle down a leafy road to the beach to swim in pale green shimmering water reflecting gold off the sandy bottom of the bay, and give blessings that such a beautiful place exists, and that I get to experience it every day.


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