This transient life is a liminal doorway. A portal between the old and new, who I was and who I’m becoming, with one foot in a time of waiting and the other in a time of action. It is the decision to leave life as I knew it behind and walk backwards into that dark adventure…
The times when I have been nomadic have taught me more about humanity and vulnerability than anything else. I began traveling when I was 19, a bit later in life for a handful of my wealthier friends, and unimaginably young for the vast majority of my acquaintances. I have been embarrassingly blessed by opportunities to travel to Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. When I selected my cultural anthropology major, I knew I wanted to do three things: see the world, improve upon human suffering, and bridge understandings among the philosophically far-flung. All of my travels and studies have taught me that people are pretty much the same everywhere and they are generally good. We all want connection, to be loved, acknowledged, and ultimately believe everything is going to be okay.
Along the way, it’s been uttered by a few and suggested by many that my positive view of the world is naive, sheltered, and still unaware of the true ways of the world. “You’ll learn!” is a common phrase I’ll hear. Yet, I’ve struck up conversations with strangers and generally been more open to recognizing the good in everyone because I seek it and believe in it. And I have not been disappointed by what I have found. And so it’s become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy – whatever you believe about humanity ultimately becomes what you find. This tale, in which two different travelers ask a farmer for advice on the town they are entering, illustrates the idea:
“What sort of people live in the next town?” asked the stranger.
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer, answering the question with another question.
“They were a bad lot. Troublemakers all, and lazy too. The most selfish people in the world, and not a one of them to be trusted. I’m happy to be leaving the scoundrels.”
“Is that so?” replied the old farmer. “Well, I’m afraid that you’ll find the same sort in the next town.
Disappointed, the traveler trudged on his way, and the farmer returned to his work.
Some time later another stranger, coming from the same direction, hailed the farmer, and they stopped to talk. “What sort of people live in the next town?” he asked.
“What were the people like where you’ve come from?” replied the farmer once again.
“They were the best people in the world. Hard working, honest, and friendly. I’m sorry to be leaving them.”
“Fear not,” said the farmer. “You’ll find the same sort in the next town.”
And here I am. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for 2 months. From India to Thailand, to Maryland, Kentucky, New Mexico, now Boston and back to Kentucky, (and then, finally, back to New Mexico), I’ve always found the same sort in every town. At the same time, it’s been a personal journey to the Venn diagram center between living simply, asking for help, and how much discomfort I can handle. This liminality has taught me the value of home, a solid foundation beneath my feet, and the simple joy of knowing where shit is… It is also challenging me to be myself anywhere and with anyone, speak my needs, and confront my ego daily with my expansive vulnerability. Because genuine vulnerability and ego cannot occupy the same space.
So now, every time my ego chimes in with a “Assert yourself and reclaim your rightful throne as Queen of all spaces you occupy!”, I hope to quiet it by – instead – breaking open and releasing into that same vulnerability as a house guest. Not necessarily by walking on eggshells or folding my body into unhealthy positions, but by not being the center of my own universe. For the past 2 months I’ve been hyper-sensitively orbiting those beings with stronger gravitational pulls than my own. The beings who are not in a crazy liminal life-altering state, who are living their day-to-day lives, and who have opened those lives to me, my husband and my cat while we make the journey back to our own center of gravity. This hyper-sensitivity has afforded me a unique perspective on those who shelter us, feed us, entertain us. I want to learn how to please each of them, to not disturb them, and to quietly watch them from the shadowy corners.
And I don’t think humans are meant to live alone, or even necessarily in pairs. We need inter-generational cohabitation to truly thrive, to soak in the wisdom of our elders and bask in the joy of the tiny humans, all to better grow each other. We need awkward conversations about religion, politics, and philosophy to challenge the stories we tell ourselves. We need to learn how to ask for help when we need it, solitude when we don’t, and we need to give each other permission to be vulnerable.
The most surprising lesson of all is, after 2 months of transient living, I still want to become the house guest of the world, seeking intimacy with strangers, getting an inside look at their version of normalcy, accepting with gratitude the crusts of their bread and dregs from their wine bottles, and, from time to time, catching a glimpse of their innate human goodness to reaffirm what I already know to be true about humanity.