Warsaw Dispatch: Where are you from?

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And so it arrives. The moment when the long-haul traveler realizes that she could be from the place she currently lives. Relationships have demonstrated the potential to be real and lasting. As much if not more so than those in x, y, and z places from before. This moment doesn’t always arrive. Some places just aren’t meant to be for a variety of reasons, mostly coincidence and timing. But most places might as well be home.

This moment brings with it a bit of the blues. For, if there’s one thing a long-haul traveler knows as tangibly as any Zen master, it’s the impermanence of all things. This moment signals that before long, it will be time to move on. Unlike the masters, however, this particular long-haul traveler has not grappled well enough with the concept of attachment to let go completely the desire for home. A permanent one. Like, I suspect, most long-haul travelers, I would like to have the sense that a finite place and a known community were mine. Part of me would love to believe this illusion of permanent belonging and the entitlement that comes with it.

Instead, the long-hauler knows deep down inside that anywhere and nowhere is home. The whole planet and all its 7+ billion people form the community. Such a perspective has radical implications that temper the blues and keep feelings from approaching the utter alienation that could lead to crippling depression. It also creates some practical challenges for interfacing with the rooted goings-on of specific points on the globe. Borders lose their sense and along with it go concepts of nation and conquest. Ownership also becomes foggy, though less-so. For me, a US citizen, it’s likely that my country has engrained in me a feel for free market capitalism and thus ownership that I will never wholly lose even while, ironically, I find that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” seem most possible when I own very little. Freedom asserts itself in the interstices of nations. When concepts like nation, citizen, and ownership lose their concrete and personal meanings, it becomes difficult to watch the news as anything but play.

Real world “serious” things like Putin’s occupation of Crimea and the US Congress’ failure to govern take on the patina of playground antics, with motivations analogous to those acted out by children, badly behaved ones. Unfortunately, the implications in this playground are global. They are not about a few cruel words or a punch and a scuffle. Putin is showing signs of attempting global expansion à la a centuries-old Russian habit, and the US Congress seems hell-bent on proving that America is at heart an idiocracy, that what you see on TV really is true. These two examples are merely the pressing ones from where I am located. The playground is full of children behaving badly, and from my vantage point, the 21st century begins to feel a bit like Lord of the Flies

As it begins to sink in that Warsaw could be home–were it not that the planet is home–I begin to wish that my global home were full of long-haul travelers, that the perspective I have cultivated via a life on the road were more common and broadly applicable. Moreover, I wish that we would all grow up a little. In my experience, Earth is a smaller and smaller sandbox. I love it dearly, and I’d like in my heart of hearts for us all to play nicely. For, it suddenly dawns on me that I am indeed from a finite place after all. We are all from the same one. Unfortunately, for those like me with attachment issues, the earth is not, by definition, permanent. If only the consequences of the current human catalysts of impermanence were, as in the following Frost poem, merely summer.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Robert Frost

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Since, however, spring is fleeting, and glorious summer cannot necessarily be counted on, at least in my metaphor, I leave you with Rabindranath Tagore:

The butterfly counts not the months but the moments, and has time enough.

***

originally published in Michigan Quarterly Review Blog on March 31, 2014

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