I’ve been trying to decide how to react to valuations of “home,” “groundedness,” and “engagement” that I’ve come across in blogs and newspaper opinion columns recently. Reading these makes me feel I have to justify my lifestyle, but I don’t know if I can.
I don’t travel with the express purpose of creating distance from friends and family. I don’t travel to avoid political engagement. These are side effects of not being “grounded” though; I can’t deny that.
I believe that it’s an honorable commitment to ground oneself in a single place and serve one’s community. One day I look forward to that.
The way I live right now, mostly in Switzerland but hopping between other locales, and (soon) occasionally the US, for me holds greater value, at least in this period of my life. And yet, that value that I can afford to place on deciding to live someplace that is not ‘mine,’ somewhere I am not made to feel I belong, is a value that I inherited with my privileges.
My parents’ incomes are the biggest reason I traveled early in life and was adventurous in trying jobs that interested me even when they didn’t pay much. My parents (and scholarships) carried the financial burden of college, my cis-gender identification, physical ability, and whiteness smoothed the way when moving through new spaces… the effects of my privileges snowballed to make traveling and studying this way not only possible, but something I could afford to value above other criteria like having a full-time job or having great health insurance.
When I don’t show up for Thanksgiving year after year or I don’t spend $1200 to come home for weddings (my track record on this is actually so bad it’s embarrassing), I hurt people I love. I hurt myself too when I don’t nurture these relationships even if through symbolic gesture. I often later regret it.
And so, each time I return, I try to be a better friend; the best version of my friend-self I can be. “Ask good questions,” I remind myself. “Embrace silence.” “Show up on time.” “Accept our differences.” “Say your appreciation out loud.” I’ve become more aware of our limited time together, more determined to make the most of it, more appreciative of each person’s particularities when they’re finally in front of me on Skype or beside me in that long-awaited reunion.
If I can convince myself to believe that I’m not just perpetually traveling because I’m indifferent to my home country or those who live there, it’s because of this:
I am in love with flaky, fresh, Turkish, Greek, Moroccan, French, Spanish, Italian, and as-yet-unknown-to-me pastries.
No, only kidding, hopefully. I think it might be because of this:
If the Earth is just a big ball of dirt and water, and I am a living thing growing up out of it, then I like to see if, and how, I can grow or even thrive in other parts of it.
Some plants just don’t transplant well, right? Like carrots, for example. I also once had a disastrous experience trying to transplant corn. I have recently been warned by Grace and Matt, who have firsthand experience killing bonsai trees, that my bonsai tree will absolutely not tolerate being moved around to different areas of light, even within my own apartment. That is not the kind of plant I want to be.
Traveling teaches my mind and my body to adapt, sprout tendrils in new directions, and discover the rhizomal network connecting me to all the other plants. So, when I have the chance to see a bit of other people’s realities, to sit beside them in a classroom, hostel, couchsurfing apartment, or bookstall while they explain how they arrived at their worldviews I like to think that my plant-self is growing healthier as it reaches out to new resources and understands new connections.
I mess up, a lot. I misinterpret, or I’m inflexible, or I pull away instead of reaching out. Putting myself in new situations and places means I get to try again sooner and grow faster.
In the meantime, I hope I not only take up, but also put down, some nutrients that my roots picked up in their previous environment. A healthy, vibrant ‘home’ community always needs fresh new dirt, doesn’t it? And maybe some ideas for new twists on Grandma’s baklava recipe?
(Don’t worry Gram, yours is the best, it was just a thought)