Every few months or so, in the years I’ve been living in Amsterdam, someone is moving away. Friends, colleagues – they all come and go. Amsterdam is a temporary base, a good airport with plenty of connections to new destinations. I give my goodbyes, and I stay. This morning on my way to work, I read Elizabeth’s latest post and I was reminded that she, too, was leaving soon. She would become an intermittent friend, one I made in one place, with whom I would keep some sort of contact until we meet again, here or someplace else, in a few months or in a few years.
Reading her, I got to see things from the opposite perspective – the perspective of the one who leaves. It also triggered some responses from the perspective of the one who stays. I decided to write about it.
“I’m always surprised by how adaptable I can be. How living out of a carry-on bag is actually very do-able. How, the diva that I am, I can be okay with not having a full wardrobe and my 20 plus lipsticks. Of course, as my partner will tell you, I still have my moments. Moments of despising the same two pairs of pants I’ve been wearing for the past few months or of wishing I could just bake some cookies, chill out on the couch and cuddle our cat for a while. But, on the whole, leaving behind the comforts is not as painful as I maybe once imagined. In fact, it’s very liberating in many ways. Realizing how when you’re constantly engaged — moving, seeing, learning, absorbing — you need very little to hold you in place.”
Ah, the lure of travel! The lure of exotica! Life as a perpetual holiday – this is how I imagine the nomadic lifestyle. It sounds perfect, and yet I am not losing any sleep on it. What is wrong with me? Why am I not into what people – millennials, in particular– seem to enjoy so much? I do like to travel and experience new places. So much that, the next thing I know is I want to move there. Because each time I like a place, I want to make it my own. I want to make it home. I would not go travel around the world if I could afford a break from work. Instead, I would choose a place and settle there until it is time to come back. I would make a home away from home. I imagine a small apartment overlooking the crimson rooftops of Lisbon, and a table not far from the window where I could sit and write. I would go for walks to clear my mind, I would try to meet people, make friends, invite them home for dinner. On the weekends, we could drive to the beach or to the mountains, to the Douro valley to see the vineyards and the clear sky at night. I can just as well imagine a rural existence, a pastel blue house with a reed rooftop in the Danube Delta, taking care of a fertile garden of vegetables, watering perfumed lilies, picking apricots from the trees and drying them in the sun, for winter. Again, I imagine myself writing and making conversation. Words and words. Written and spoken. And then I realize what I wish for is not conditioned by a location. I can have it anywhere. I can have it right here.
“And now that we’re back in Amsterdam, I’ve adapted once again. Easily sinking into the comforts of a routine. The pleasures of making a home; hanging up my jewelry, cooking dinner, smelling the roses I arranged in a reused glass jar. The tangible, physical things that offer so much pleasure. I become accustomed to the beauty of my space, to the ease and productivity of a routine.”
The physical things that offer so much pleasure. I liked that. My books, my diaries, my drawings, my photos, my memory boxes – these are my pleasure-offering physical things. They are home to me. This is what I took with me when I moved to Amsterdam. This is what I will take with me if I ever make another home my own. And now, just as I am writing these sentences, I understand why I am not dreaming of a nomad life. A life in transition would not make much sense to me. Sooner or later, I would need to arrive at the destination. I would need a home. Not because of comfort, not even for sentimental reasons. It is because I need depth. When I like something, I want to indulge in it. I want plenty of it and enough time to enjoy it. When I like it somewhere, I want to stay. I want that to become home. Like in love. More permanence than transition – this is what I need.
“When you’re only home for a few months and you know you are going to leave again, a lot of things can seem pointless. Why unpack everything? Why make your life settled and cosy when you’re just going to pick up and leave again? What’s the point? Why invest in my surroundings, in making new social connections, when I know that soon I will have to let go? But there is danger in this thinking, it’s much like the question of why make your bed in the morning if you’re just going to sleep in it again at night? Why do these things that, on some level are entirely futile, and on another, are entirely essential? And when I think about it, when I force myself to give this feeling of futility a good long stare, I see in it one of those hidden lessons. That, of course, you nest anyway. You try to build something in whatever time you have anyway. You soak it all up anyway. Because when I set foot in a new city, I don’t hesitate to jump right in. To drink up the sights, to eagerly try out all of the local food, to make friends with the people I meet, even though I know I only have a few days. So why should my approach to life at home be any different?”
I used to be shocked at how easy it was for some to let go. So simple, so clean. In and out of my life. Soon after I moved to the Netherlands, I lost my ex – the one I had moved here for, – I lost our common friend, then my boss, who was like a father figure to me, left the company. In the years that followed, good friends moved back to Romania. Each separation left its own traces, some more disturbing than others, all relevant at the time. I had made a home and then it fell apart.
I now understand that home means different things to different people. This is how I cope with the impermanence of relationships. I let people go to whatever is home to them. It can be another girlfriend, another country, it can just be the road. As for my home, instead of looking at the cracks in the walls and seeing only what is missing, I stare into the light coming in. This light is me finding out what I want to do with my life, and this light are also the people coming my way. For each person who is leaving, another one shows up. And I am not saying people are replaceable, because I feel they are not. I am only saying there is a tendency for equilibrium in how life works, a continuous exchange of energy, a continuous source of light. And when I meet someone new, even when our time together is limited, I give all I have. Like Elizabeth with the people she meets in her travels. Like me with Elizabeth. If a connection is meaningful enough, it will not fade away. Even if one goes and the other stays.
I am not making the road my home. I stay. I go to where I feel like going, as often as I need to, then I come back. It could be that I lack a natural curiosity for many places in the world, but that is alright. Not being curious about everywhere is the same as not being curious about everyone. You just don’t go there.