I’ve got a friend who always talks about her people. Honestly, it was something I never really felt like I understood, and it was one of the great mysteries that divided us. She has her roots, her people, and all these things that tie her to a place. A place that she recently left, for another place where she has similar roots. How painful does that sound? Choosing to rip yourself from the place and people you love, choosing to leave in part because it makes sense and in part because you’re soothing the wounds that were open when you lived in the first place because you weren’t in the second. Ouch. (and sorry to twist the knife.) Being the clever, quick thinking business woman that I am, I came up with a solution to her problem. Don’t have roots.
Perhaps I should have started this with an apology to my friends reading this. It’s not that I don’t care about you – I really, really do, and I hope you know that. But I’ve been developing this idea about far away friends, and it’s something I’ve come to accept as a reality – I know too many people destined for too many diverse and great things to expect one town to hold them all. And it’s a kind of glamorous idea – having friends all over who you can call when you just happen to be across the country, knowing you will always have a hug and great conversation wherever you go. The time you spend together becomes quality, not quantity, and you cherish the evenings and weekends and maybe rare weeks when you get to see the people you truly love.
The other thing about this framework is it leaves you free. I’ve been fond of saying for some time now that the kind of commitment I’m ready for is a cactus. Drop an ice cube in there every few weeks to keep it nourished, and tuck it easily into a carry-on bag to take it on a plane – you’re good to go! That’s what I want.
I spent high school so incredibly rooted – in a relationship, in a church community, in the school community, in a tight-knit and cancer-tastic family – that by the time I left all I wanted to do was be free. Cutting ties wasn’t quite as easy as that, but time and a lot of temporary relocation finally cut those roots or at least stretched them to a sufficiently light and freeing distance. I threw a few darts, broke a few hearts, and dragged a few people through the mud with me, but for the most part I was free. I went wherever I pleased. New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Rome, Spain, Morocco. Granted, I did still have financial roots, but those where flexible enough that they allowed me to fly – literally.
When the economy crashed my flight path did as well, but I bunkered down, telling myself this was just an ellipsis until when I would be in the air again, and then I would fly free as a bird to a place where I knew no one. Then California landed in my lap, and I jumped at the chance to fly again.
But when I got here, I was alone. Not surprising in itself, but what surprised me was how much that bothered me. I was always the introvert – the girl who went to the museum by herself. The girl who wanted no more commitment than a cactus. What did I need anyone else for?
In Northern California I never really made friends – the office people weren’t really my people and the suburbanites definitely weren’t either. I got used to it, did fine, consciously avoided alcoholism and watched a lot of Netflicks. But then when I got to San Diego, something happened. I met people. Mostly single serving friends – the kind who I met at a bar and spent the evening with or who took me out to dinner after work, but I like them and if I were here longer I would love to go see their favorite unknown band at a hole-in-the-wall place or play with their children. And because I’ve met these people, I feel alive. I’m sure the weather and the view from my balcony help, but the real reason I feel alive and on fire here is because I’m connecting with other human beings. Listening to their stories, sharing mine, and talking about life. Laughing. Wondering. Growing.
It’s not that I’ve decided when I get back to Michigan I’m staying – I’m still leaving, and almost nothing anyone could do would make me stay. But what I know now, without a doubt, is when I arrive wherever I will be, I need to find people. I will need people, every day, who I care about and who care about me. I will need to get involved, take the ropes and tie myself down, and begin to love and be loved. And this love, these roots, will let me fly.
A sentiment echoed by millions of other people before? Absolutely. But did that make the moment I realized it for myself any less meaningful? Absolutely not. Dear Tall Friend, I get it. I know it’s a little late, but you know I’m a stubborn bitch. Love, Short Friend.
“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” – Albert Einstein