“Rootlessness” And A Price For It

I’d told you the other day I would not be blogging every day. Which is I’m sure a huge relief to you! 🙂 I’ve been writing…

On Thursday morning, I decided also to pop over to read Giulia – to see if she had written anything new. You remember her. She is the young woman currently here in London who had declared in a post that she felt so alone she was actually suicidal. (My posts on that are found if you click here [Sept 14] and here [Sept 15].) On September 24, she had indeed updated that “suicidal” post, writing this:

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I read quite a few young travel bloggers – many of whom I know follow me on my site here. Some travel for a “gap year” (that year before beginning university that is not uncommon here in Britain); or they’ve moved abroad for university; or they’ve ended up TEFL instructors (Teaching English as a Foreign Language); or they’ve decided just to make it up as they go along: a personal adventure. Roaming here and there, often they live in hostels.

It is for a time a relatively “rootless” existence far away from home in which many seek “to find” themselves, enjoy new experiences, and maybe even make new friends. Most of them whom I have read, and read, claim to be having – generally – fantastic times.

However, there is another side to that sort of a life: a loneliness. I write that because I think it is relevant and I note it in this comment I left on Thursday on Giulia’s blog:

I did not see your 24/9 update until I popped by this morning [27/9] to see how you are doing. I’m lots older than you, and my experience of traveling a lot a couple of decades ago was I met so many great people, but only rarely got know them well and now I communicate with almost none of them. A time spent traveling is good in its own ways – seeing new places, encountering new people, etc. – but it’s often not conducive to creating meaningful, long-term relationships. Although, it might. It takes only one encounter and you find a best friend or a spouse, but that is in many ways sheer luck and fate. Even university may not produce meaningful relationships. I don’t recall you mentioning any family, but aside from family I have learned that we are most likely to begin to find meaningful relationships once we have committed ourself to a place and something of a life routine, such as gainful employment. Please don’t confuse what you are currently temporarily experiencing (changing country and perhaps working an indifferent job just to earn some money) with normal life and relationships. It’s not. Try to see where you are for where you are, and not insist where you are should be what it probably cannot be. You are twenty and currently evidently living something of a “rootless” life. The relationships will come. You are not a ghost, believe me. You sound rather like someone who feels lonely in a crowded room, but don’t forget that lots of other people in that room feel lonely too – they just aren’t talking about it. And I’d bet there are some in that crowded room who would love to talk to you, and to really get to know you, but who are too insecure in themselves or just to[o] nervous or even shy to approach you, believing that you would never be interested in them.

I thought that response to her might resonate perhaps with some of you too. That’s why I have re-posted it here.

There is a much broader issue here that also may be relevant. One of our problems as humans is we see the present and think that this present is what will always be. But that just isn’t so. This present will not last – even if you desperately want it to, life forces outside of your control will alter it. If I think back here to where I was at age 20 (then, I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska), and then at 30 (I was in Paris), and then at 40 (I was married by then and here in London), and, uh, well, you get the idea… based on my own experience I guarantee you that in ten years you will be living a life that is not the one you are living now – whether you want it that way or not.

All you can always look to do is to attempt to mould your life into something of the life you hope to live. But understand this, not everything in your life will make you wildly happy: there will be certain dissatisfactions, maybe empty feelings, and perhaps even regrets. You may not like your job; maybe you have trouble in your marriage; or your kids give you grief; or your parents become ill, and more.

[St. Giles Church, Codicote, Hertfordshire, England. Photo by me, on a gorgeous April 18, 2018.]

If you are abroad even temporarily, and believe you have “no friends,” you will probably feel even MORE alone. Even lucky as I am to be surrounded by family and friends, I’ve had those moments over the years around non-Americans when I also wished I just didn’t have to explain something: I may have just wanted to watch the New York Jets lose without having to go through the rules; or not to talk about the current president for the 856th time; or just to eat some Oreos without discussing what they are within the history of American junk food. At home, among those we know and who know us, there is often an inherent understanding. Abroad, though, even when among those who love us and possess the best will in the world, there may just be those moments they may not “get” what we feel about this or that: missing is an intangible familiarity, a knowing nod, a shared reference; a blank expression in response may bring on brief feelings of isolation and even loneliness.

My worst moment abroad by far was in the days after September 11, 2001. Some things I witnessed being said and written in media here led me to want to go home to the US and never return here; but I also knew of course those ignorant views were not held by those non-Americans here I knew well and who knew me well. I was warmed when I began to notice how those I knew well, including colleagues, seemed to become protective of me and even overly concerned about how I felt – which in its way raised my spirits. Out of the blue, I even got an email from a woman across the Channel whom I had not seen in years, worried about me and my family in New York…

9/11 is an extreme example, of course. But generally speaking all we can always try to do if we feel isolated in the world is to seek ways to attack any “aloneness” by finding outlets of positivity. Simply put, if you ever find, for whatever reason, you are feeling down or lonely, the best defense is a good offense: find something positive to do that makes you feel at least a little bit happier, and, if possible, at least pick up the phone and talk to someone.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. 🙂