On Being Where You Are

It’s overwhelming to think of where you want to go — the never-ending list of cities unexplored and experiences unseen.

Or perhaps it’s really overwhelming to think of where you are not —the alternate realities unfulfilled.

I read this entry in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows and felt the pang of recognition:

onism
n. the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time, which is like standing in front of the departures screen at an airport, flickering over with strange place names like other people’s passwords, each representing one more thing you’ll never get to see before you die — and all because, as the arrow on the map helpfully points out: you are here.
Anywhere you go, there you are.

It’s what my dad told me when I begged to go to boarding school. Somewhere far away, where they had things like deciduous trees and lacrosse. Somewhere I’d find something different.

My parents, in their abounding wisdom, only briefly entertained the possibility.

Your problems follow you wherever you go, they said. You pack them up and bring them along.

The other day a stranger told me about a farewell gathering he organized for his girlfriend. She wasn’t doing well, and they said goodbye to her on a reservation in Southern California. He wanted to move to the Nordics or spend a month in India. He wanted to be a person well traveled — the kind you can spot by the look in their eye.

I’ve been thinking about what it would take to fly away. Maybe it’s human nature to think that way when crammed into a big city, or sprawled across a small town, or otherwise limited by the borders outside yourself. I calculated the savings I’d need to survive for a year. This suggested a form of readiness to leave, but not readiness to let go.

No amount of movement will change what keeps me up at night, the fears that sit on my chest with the reminder that things, as they are right now, aren’t quite good enough. That you are here.

You learn a lot about yourself by using envy as a barometer. I used to envy accomplishment. Now I envy freedom. I imagine Peter Pan attaching and detaching his shadow. That’s only possible in Neverland.

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