An Existential Reflection from Living Alone
How Have You Lived all the In-Betweens of Life?
The Push and Pull Between Staying and Moving
It’s been over two months since I moved away from home to attend my current PhD program. The move initially was a lot more difficult than anticipated, and lead to a big drop in mental health.
In college, I had technically moved away for two years to a shared home with other women. However, I didn’t really feel that I had moved away. My dad would pick me up every Friday night to visit them for the weekend and take me back Sunday night. Break and vacation times were often spent at home unless I traveled. At the shared home, even though I had my own bed, bathroom cubby, fridge space, and kitchen cabinet, I didn’t feel that I had my own space. What I called home was back with my parents where I had my room and the space to do my own thing. So this move was the first, real-time I had moved away.
A second thing going on was that my dad’s passing was only last year. I stayed with my mom to keep her company the first year to make it emotionally easier on her. As she anticipated my move, I could see her distress about living alone. Her emotional discomfort constantly pulled me between starting my own life and staying to support her.
Another big factor was that my boyfriend was going to stay in Los Angeles for the time being. We had spoken about moving in together before but he wasn’t ready to leave his job. He wanted more experience, to save up a bit before leaving, and also would need to put in the time to go through the whole job search process.
Therefore, I was moving to a new place where the only person I knew was my new apartment manager. With everyone that I love and care for back in LA.
The first few days I felt a lot of distress. However, to be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what was distressing me. If it was the change in environment, being away from my childhood home, having to cope without my loved ones around, simply trying to figure out how to make a new home for myself, or all of the above.
With time, I created a comfortable routine for myself. Often my schedule would mismatch with my mom’s and boyfriend's. So outside of class and work, I spent a lot of time on my own without anyone to talk to. But during that alone time, I was able to reflect on a couple of things, which I think is well summarized in this book excerpt from Meditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius, translated by Gregory Hays, Book 5, Line 31:
How have you behaved to the gods, to your parents, to your siblings, to your wife, to your children, to your teachers, to your nurses, to your friends, to your relatives? Have they all had from you nothing “wrong and unworthy, either word or deed”? Consider all that you’ve gone through, all that you’ve survived. And that the story of your life is done, and your assignment is complete. How many good things have you seen? How much pain and pleasure have you resisted? How many honors have you declined? How many unkind people have you been kind to?
The essence of this excerpt is:
1) Have you treated those around you fairly? Meaning that you resisted lashing out resentment, anger, or fear toward them? Have you held back from allowing your insecurities, ego, and biases from tainting your relationship with them? Have you done everything within your will to treat them lovingly and caringly, even if they did not deserve it?
2) If you were to die today at this moment and reflected on everything you had lived, done, and said up to that moment, would you say that you experienced enough of what the world has to offer? Did you remove yourself from desires and unnecessary comforts that would only hold you back in your life’s progress? And did you live humbly, honestly, and with integrity?
These questions, these reflections, are what haunt us as we age and grow if not fulfilled. It is my understanding that we were created with a purpose. But our purpose is not just one end goal. It is the process we take, our journey to getting there, and everything we do in between that makes up our life.
And so I realized one night while sitting alone on my bed after a long day of classes and a few hours of work that my distress was existential. I had done well in my past, but I had done perhaps as equally wrong. My moment of reflection was about going forward in forgiving myself for my shortcomings, and considering what could I do tomorrow to reach who I need to be to ultimately fulfill my purpose.