To acquire wisdom, one must observe

Being of two worlds

I have found the annual exercise of leaving for summer holiday to be acutely challenging. My experience with the most-recent Great Departure, if I may call it as such, only reinforced this feeling in my mind. I found the acts of clapping at the commencement of final lectures, returning rented books and the ever-hellish experience of packing all of one’s belongings into boxes or bags to be difficult to endure. 

Put simply, I was neither ready, nor of the opinion I would ever really be ready, to leave campus in the spring. 

To be sure, I was tired, as was everyone else, from the semester that was all-too-quickly ending. However, I was not ready to depart from the place that I have come to understand as a home. Though importantly, not the only home. I was unprepared to bid adieu from the people I have come to associate with intense feelings of friendship. I felt ill-equipped to leave Massachusetts just as spring was beginning to … well, spring. I was dreading the inevitable departure from the people I consider mentors on this campus, knowing that a break in communication was, justifiably so, needed and upon us. I hated all of these thoughts and pushed many of them to far-off regions of my brain, just to avoid the threat of a fit of overwhelming emotion. I was a fool practicing the ancient art of what your therapists call compartmentalization. 

Now, one can only compartmentalize so much, and it became harder to do as the end of the term came closer and closer. Every conversation inevitably became one whose subject matter concerned some aspect of the Great Departure, and I grew exponentially more distressed at the thought of leaving campus for nearly a fourth of the year. Here, you may be wondering, why did I feel so much stress at the thought of leaving campus? Afterall, as kids, all we looked forward to during the year was summer and, during the height of final exams, in no small part thanks to the stress of it all, many students voice an unrelenting wish for the year to just be over. So, why did I feel this way? 

In one of the aforementioned conversations that inevitably concerned summer, a dear friend of mine tackled the issue head on with me—leaving me with little choice but to un-compartmentalize the subject. My friend confided that she had felt similarly about the summer in the year prior. She recounted how unprepared she had felt packing up her things and shipping herself off to the other side of the country in May. She recalled feelings of deep unsettlement—I am ventriloquizing her here—but she felt as if she were a root vegetable, prematurely ripped out from the ground before her ripening. And it was awful. Leaving Brandeis was harder than she could have imagined. In the short span of nine months, she had become irrefutably accustomed, and perhaps even attached, to a way of living that could only be carried out on this campus and leaving it so suddenly for three months felt daunting.

At the root of all this, is the fact that, as students, we live two separate lives. We live a life spent at university, and a life lived in our place-of-origin; and chances are, your life spent at university looks very different from your life lived at home. I do not think it is wrong, nor inaccurate, to deem one life superior in some number of ways to the other. I think it is perfectly natural, and indeed simply the case, that students find one life more interesting or relaxing, or indeed, more authentic than the other. While I certainly believe that people have different reasons for why they may hold one life in better regards than the other, I do not think, nor do I expect, that everyone agree on which life they enjoy living more. That is an all-too-personal choice that only the liver gets a say.

Because I am only accountable to my lived experience, I will posit that I have come to regard my life in university as much richer than my life at home. Forthrightly, this does not mean that I do not enjoy my life at home, nor does it mean that I find zero value in my home-life. Quite the contrary, I do enjoy my life at home and have written extensively about why it is that I love the physical land on which my home life is carried out. Yet, what is indisputable in my mind, is that my life at Brandeis is filled with so much stuff that is simply missing and that could never be added to my life at home.

In our conversation, I remember telling my dear friend that I cannot recall another time in my life in which I have felt so fulfilled. Brandeis has been a time of doing. I am constantly doing something. I am always writing, thinking, talking, walking, kvetching, reading—doing something. All things that end with an active i-n-g. At Brandeis, I am resolutely doing things, constantly stimulated and never at rest. 

I remember choosing that word—fulfilled—very carefully in that conversation. Importantly, at Brandeis, I am not always happy. I am, indeed, sometimes miserable, stressed and on-the-verge of a nervous breakdown. I have been heartbroken here. I have been unmotivated here. I have felt near-worthless here. Yet, at the very same time, I have never felt so much, as I have felt here. Crucially, I have never felt empty here. And yes, this is what makes this world so special, and indeed, superior to my life at home. Even when I am at my worst at Brandeis, I am feeling so intensely—feeling the weight of what I can only claim as my being as a living person right now—and that extent of feeling is worth the emotional baggage it comes with. 

Brandeis stands in stark contrast with my home. As I have written in the pages of this paper before, my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico is slow, quiet and comfortable. Albuquerque demands absolutely nothing from me but my mere existence. My hometown does not demand long papers justifying my morality or two-to-three paragraphs in a blue book meant to demonstrate my mastery of historical facts. New Mexico presents absolute wilderness to me and dares me to embrace it. And for this, I love it. There are still parts of this land that are untamed; its climate is arid, brutal, unforgiving and undeniably breathtaking all at once. I have come to regard my home state as an escape from Brandeis, and I look forward to returning to its familiarity every chance I get. 

Yet, because of this understanding of my hometown, as an escape to something I once had, to something that once was, as opposed to something that is right now, it has taken on a status of regression. What I mean, is that coming home most-closely resembles what I could only imagine traveling back in time feels like. Because my hometown is Brandeis’ antipathy, because it demands nothing, as opposed to everything from me. Because it is slow, quiet and comfortable, as opposed to quick, noisy and prickly. Because it is untamed, arid, brutal and unforgiving, as opposed to civilized, humid, polite and accommodating, it feels as though I am returning to a life that once was mine but is now alienated from the present me.

I suspect that what makes this feeling so difficult to endure is that the constant back-and-forth, the to-and-fro, the this-now-that of returning and home and going to Brandeis splits the soul. One part of you resides at home and the other lives at Brandeis. Why is this unpleasant? Because we’re human beings, and human beings have an unexplainable and unrelenting desire for unification. We are simple creatures after all, more on that from Nietzsche.

What seems to add a layer of complexity to all of this, is that despite its flaws, I do love my home. And I think most people do. Let me be clear here about what exactly I mean by “home.”  Home can be many different things, places, people, objects et cetera. I don’t have a rigid conception of home because I think home is a malleable concept. Whatever home means to you, I think most people do love it—at least in some capacity. And I think we continue to underplay the importance of home to our psyche. I think we underestimate just how much, as human beings, we need to be home. 

Recall that I mentioned that I have come to see Brandeis as a home, though importantly not the only home? I think that when your soul becomes split between two or more homes, things get messy. And of course, they would. How can you ever feel truly “unpacked” when you reside in multiple places? Can you ever expect to feel wholly at ease with the knowledge that you’ve settled? The answer is that you can’t because you aren’t ever unpacked or settled. You’re living with the knowledge that you will be leaving again. You’re in a state of limbo, you’re restless, unearthed. Constantly. 

I began writing this in the beginning of the summer, as I had just come back to New Mexico. My flight was awful, thanks for asking. I remember packing my things in my dorm and crying on a phone call with my brother while doing so. Because I can never leave well-enough alone, I’m finishing this god-forsaken piece now, at the end of summer. Again, getting ready to leave. Am I ready? Yes and no. On the one hand, intellectually, I crave the pressure cooker. Socially, I feel deprived and can’t wait to see familiar friendly faces. On the other, I don’t want to leave New Mexico. I love this home. I adore my desert. Despite spending the summer in a governmental office building, my arms and legs have become deeply tanned from hours of weekly exercise, which I won’t have time for in Waltham. I won’t have an afternoon to waste reading Baldwin. I can’t drive 45 minutes north to Santa Fe, or two more hours to Taos for a hike up the ski valley. I will miss this freedom of home. The freedom of thin air, of endless summer nights, of relentlessly hot afternoons.

But what am I to do about it? I know what’s coming. I’ve done it twice already. Autumn awaits, and I must depart Eastward. For a culture that I am not native to, and to people who are of the conviction that the sun rises from Beacon Hill. But I know better now than I did when I first made the move. Or I like to think so anyway. The more I know, the less I understand … or some shit like that. Now I’m just rambling, I guess I don’t know how to close this one out. It’s unfinished, incomplete. Just like me. And just like my journey home.

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