I was struck most by Salman Rushdie’s argument that “the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity” (12). This is a statement that very easily correlates with the human experience and the feelings of discontinuity and change. Much like a dream or distant memory, each individual’s past carries a haze-like aura around what we once remember and very likely continues to influence us in the present. Rushdie’s comparison of the past to a country also suggests that where we came from, or were once before, can be vast and intricate. An entire country of a person’s past seems overwhelming, as well as somewhat deserted. Acknowledging the limitations and positivity of a person’s past, however, as Rushie does, is what permits the comparison to work.
When we consider visiting a country, be it in Europe, a tropical island, or even Canada, we see ourselves there with other people. We travel to another place because we want to share it with another human being. Similarly, these experiences often allow us to “speak properly and concretely on a subject of universal significance and appeal,” as Rushdie suggests (12). Study-abroad trips in college are often labeled as “life-changing” for the new perspectives they give on the world at large. We come to see the customs and traditions of other people, places, and cultures, and return seeing the United States as a mere microcosm of the globe. In this sense, our past has influenced our current state and we look back on our trips to the other countries as memories that we shared and learned alongside other people. We may leave feeling smaller in comparison to the new country when we return home, but we take with us a feeling of nostalgia and excitement to return once more.
In other instances, however, we may travel to another country alone, for perhaps business, leisure, or mere self-exploration. In these cases, the countries become awe-inspiring for their vastness and the sense of being “totally alone.” It is in these experiences that we shape our experiences “being elsewhere,” as Rushdie refers to it, “being in a different place” within our selves (12). We may experience a revitalization and empowerment on these visits and look forward to applying our newfound confidence at home. As Rushdie suggests, we are overwhelmed by the vastness of the new country, yet allow it to influence our sense of self positively.
Both instances of traveling to another country relate to Rushdie’s argument that the past is in itself its own country. We are all free to travel and return to it whenever we please, yet we take a different experience away from it each time we visit. Our individual pasts are nothing to shy away from or reject as “foreign.” They are an extension of our homeland, where we combine all of our life experiences with one another’s and can acknowledge the “significance and appeal” of their unique intricacies (12). The past is a country from which we all stem, yet we all have our own individual experiences each time we visit and when return home once more.