Austin and I were traveling last month in Colombia, mainly on the Western side. It was dreamy from start to finish (with pictures to come soon!). The way that it began was a weekend email from my most adventurous friend saying that flights to Cartagena were super reasonable and did we know that her aunt actually had a place there that we could stay for free? The timing was difficult; my brother was getting married the weekend before, and we would have good friends visiting SF as well, but I love traveling with Camille and we had been wanting to explore some part of South America, and when you really want something, you make it work. So a few months later, there we were.
When we all met up on our second day (she had been there a week before us) Camille was talking about her trip and how wonderful it had been and then she talked about how she also just didn't feel like this was her place, how she wasn't really connecting to it. Camille had lived in Thailand and Burma for 5 years, making Asia her home. She effortlessly wore skinny jeans when it felt like a hair dryer blowing on high outside, and she adopted every puppy she could find. But when she talked about this not being her place, and something else being her place, it reinforced what's been happening inside of me for a while now: how I miss the places that I've been and lived, how I long for them even while I so enjoy where I am now; how I feel their absence.
It's interesting to think about how a place's meaning changes over time, like how I was so set on leaving the Bay Area when I was 18 for the more theater-centric East Coast in hopes of fulfilled improv dreams, but landed in rainy, perfect Seattle instead. Or how I was ready to leave the PNW 4 years later, after college, after life-changing friendships and heartbreaks and mind blowings. How New Mexico was this desolate, raw, unforgiving painting when I first arrived-- how I was both scared of the loneliness and comforted that it mirrored what I felt inside. How the first salad I had in Gallup literally had green jell-o inside of it. How dating someone who loved it there helped me to learn to love it, all of it, the sticky kids and wild sunsets and long drives and walks and runs that fed me, as I learned again how to feed myself. How I longed for community-filled Seattle even when held by such beauty. How I missed NM when I moved back to the friend-filled, familiar PNW. How I missed my family and California rays and my aunts and my grandmas and 280 and its its and the Giants. How I'm here in SF, truly here, in an amazing apartment with my husband, our soul-dog, with jobs no less, and my heart sometimes aches for Seattle and for New Mexico. San Francisco was the old thing that I wanted to leave when I was 18, and it became the new thing that I wanted to come back to 10 years later. Seattle was the old college town that I wanted to leave at 22, and it was the known refuge I sought when I was 25. New Mexico hadn't hardly ever crossed my mind until I was assigned to go teach there 6 years ago, and now it appears woven into my daydreams and every Chris Pureka song.
I read that last paragraph and think immediately about how discontent I seem. "Just be happy, Lindsey!" my worst critics shout. But I don't think I'm alone in this missing, especially if you're someone who has had whole lives, whole livelihoods with friends and partners and memories in other places. I don't think the right question is, why aren't you happy now? I'm actually really happy right now, but in a different way than I was 10 years ago, 6 years ago, 1 year ago. What I'm actually doing is mapping a whole decade of my life geographically, but we all have our different data points that help us hold on to how life has moved on: mapping with relationships or heartbreaks or or careers or adventures.
It's no surprise that we don't typically grieve well (in our society, in my family unit, in general). Most of us are removed from the bloody births and deaths of life, and we don't know quite what to do with sadness. But I'm drawn to people who do, who don't scoff at the word 'grief', who let themselves be curious about it. We hardly ever let grief do its job, though, including me, and maybe we also forget that it's important to let ourselves be sad about the good things that happen too: the changes, the way life moves on.
Change is defined as "making and becoming different", that things are no longer what they once were. The changes can be primarily good moves, things that you had been hoping for or wanting, or they're the byproduct of tragedy, of never choosing that particular outcome. But either way, I think they're important to pay attention to, important to let yourself take in.
It's like how I really love being married to and living life with Austin. He's the most kind, hilarious, brave person I know. And, AND, I miss living in a house full of people coming in and out, like I did in Seattle. I miss living in that sort of dynamic community, and even though I wouldn't want that living situation to be my forever, even though when I met Austin I knew I would marry him, even if living with him was what I had wanted, a part of me needs to grieve what was, that things aren't like that anymore, because if I don't, I won't be entirely free to enjoy what is.
New parents tell me that it's similar when it comes to their kids' milestones. They cry when their child takes their first steps or has their first day of Kindergarten or weanes from nursing. We don't put these things into the category of anything to be sad about-- they represent appropriate development and growth, after all-- but we all know that feeling, and how it's not that simple. There's a "both/and" quality about the moving on; it is good and what we wanted, and it means that things won't ever be exactly that way, ever again.
This is life, this is the good grief, this is the thing of it. I've been letting myself miss my people in Seattle and NM more lately, which has helped, thinking about them when I want and need to, crying when it feels good, making more phone calls, reading old journal entries, looking at photographs.
Part of it is that SF is still new and feeling known is a long, arduous process that often takes a backseat to Netflix. The amount of times I've thought to myself or said out loud "how in the world do you make friends in a new place as an adult?" is real; the struggle is real. But then I am reminded of the age-old truth that belief or feeling does not always precede action, that often we have to do take the next right step anyway, without feeling like it, and the rest will come. So we go out when we feel like staying in, or I try that new group or book club without being sure, and what do you know, grace upon grace, one Saturday night in October you find yourself taking the bus to meet Austin and two new friends at their place wanting to get there to debrief your day, looking forward to feeling understood. And as all Saturday nights should go, we found our way up to their rooftop to take in our city, all of it, the familiar home and new adventure, all that is still waiting for us and all that holds us up.
It reminded me that just like how we are all of the ages we've ever been, we are the product of our experiences and places; we take them with us. And on this morning with my pup and husband sleeping in this gentle foggy light and an acoustic song about long desert roads in the background, I am much more homefull than I am homeless, and so grateful.