When Life Hits You With a Big Question

Today, I was basically asked whether I would be open to potentially picking up and moving to a new country (in a conflict-zone area) in two weeks.

It was a hypothetical question, largely dependent on a number of factors and circumstances – but nonetheless a question I had to answer before there could be any possibility of forward motion for it to potentially happen. So there is a large chance that the whole thing could fall through tomorrow, but there is also a chance that the hypothetical situation could actually materialize into a reality.

Regardless of what the outcome ends up being, though, just the mere act of having to come up with an answer in that moment has made me realize a number of important things. And since the outcome could come to a conclusion as soon as tomorrow, I feel like I should take advantage of this fleeting moment to acknowledge the interesting set of emotions/thoughts/considerations that have arisen from this sudden, unlikely question I’ve had to answer under fairly unexpected circumstances.

The main shocking part of this whole thing was the inner struggle/conflict it took to come up with an answer with any certainty.

I realize this doesn’t sound like the strangest of reactions…most normal people will probably experience some reservations/indecisiveness about moving to a conflict zone…or just moving to a new country in general. To give some context though – this wasn’t the first time I’d ever considered this particular option…the opportunity had come up many months ago in a less concrete manner and with no definitive timeframe. But I think having already reacted once to this question when it first came up and thinking back to my thoughts and reactions then versus now is what has made this the most interesting.

The first time it was ever mentioned, I was absolutely overjoyed at even the slight possibility that it could happen – it represented excitement, change, an incredible career opportunity, an important personal development opportunity, etc. But when it come up today – the immediate, overwhelming reaction was just a bombardment of conflicting emotions.

And I think one of the main reasons for that, besides the fact that this time it was asked with much more concrete potential for it to quickly result in something, was my current circumstances. In the few seconds of pause before I responded with an [outwardly confident] “yes” in response to the hypothetical question posed to me, my mind was flooded with thoughts of my lovely new apartment with my lovely new roommate in our lovely new neighbourhood…to the vibrant, joyful, and inspiring Baha’i community I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know these past few weeks….to the amazing people I’ve recently met or begun to form deeper friendships with…to all the unbelievable art, culture, history, and spirit within Joburg that I had recently started to appreciate with more depth and meaning than I had a year ago when I first moved here…

It was a flood of thoughts far removed from the types of thoughts incited from the first time the question came up – which, by contrast, had been far removed from my life in Joburg itself. Looking back, it seems like my attachment to my surroundings was barely existent – I had appreciation for the things around me, for the place I inhabited…but it never really elevated to the level of ‘attachment’. Friends were constantly leaving the country and I was living in the country with the expectation that my time in SA was limited by an eventual end date of my fellowship. It was also my first year as a college-graduate, which I feel comes with a natural subconscious assumption of continued change & movement (whether to grad school or to a new job).

And I think with such underlying assumptions and expectations constantly present, some part of me forms a guard to the possibility of attachment – a small voice in my head constantly reminding me that none of this is permanent, that becoming too close to too many people or getting too comfortable in the place that I live carries with it the risk of attachment…for which I will then have to fight to overcome when the inevitable day of leaving it all behind finally comes. But when I got my contract extension, ended my status as a “fellow” and entered the phase of adulthood no longer bound by periods of certain start and end dates, my inner non-attachment voice started to fade a bit. And I let it.

My perspective suddenly shifted from seeing Joburg as my fellowship placement site to seeing it as my temporary ‘home’ – the word that carries with it so much weight and depth. Moving to a new place, with a new roommate, and making an effort to take advantage of all that my new location had to offer – I’ve allowed this place to slowly become a home. And having once taken a college course in which we had to break down and analyze the concept of “home” in its every facet, I don’t use that word lightly. I’ve also realized that, by far, many of the places I’ve lived had never manifested themselves into ‘homes’ – either for lack of sufficient time or, due to the knowledge of my limited time there, self-imposed lack of freedom to allow my mind to consider them as places of ‘home’.

And for me, I think one of the biggest indicators of having established ‘home’ anywhere, is the reaction to leaving that place (or persons). It’s a shame, but also a seemingly common occurrence, that we really never realize what exactly we have in our lives until we find it being taken away – a realization that seems all the more jarring when the pending removal of those elements of home is compressed into a small time frame. As cliche as the idea is, the weight of its implications never seem to diminish.

Which brings me to the whole point of this rambling post:

That I am just really grateful for these rare moments that force me to examine my own life from another perspective. Whether or not the thing which instigated all of these thoughts and emotions in the first place comes to fruition,  it has done something equally as important: that is, remind me how beautiful it is to have a place (or set of life circumstances) that feel, in whole or in part, as ‘home’. And even more – that the power to create ‘home’ is so deeply entrenched in our own level of openness and willingness to allow someplace new to become home. Sometimes it means moving to a new neighbourhood, sometimes it means investing in friendships even though you know you will eventually have to leave many of them, sometimes it means continuing to explore a place even when you think you’ve explored all the best parts – recognizing that there are always new layers to unfold and new experiences to be had.

If I end up having to leave Joburg in a few weeks, overcoming the attachments I’d let myself form will no doubt be a challenge, but I will also be equipped with this newfound appreciation for the potential to experience ‘home’ anywhere I go. If I don’t end up leaving, I will be all the better off for having been faced with the possibility even for a moment – as it has deepened the pride and appreciation I feel for this perplexingly beautiful city that I currently call home.