We’re All Just Passing Through

Photo by Kaique Rocha at Pexels

I’ve moved three times in the last two years, each time to a different state. While it’s cool to have been a resident of four different states in a span of two years (a year and a half, really), I’m not sure I would ever choose to do again. Or at least not for a long while.

Prior to these three moves, all the times I moved as an adult were to semi-permanent places: Whether it was moving to a new city, moving into a new apartment or house, or moving to a new job position, I had no intention of leaving upon arriving. (I mean, I knew they would not be forever, but there was no set end-date in sight upon arrival.) And growing up, I lived in the same house from childhood through high school. It was not until this last move, where there is no set end-date, that I realized what a toll all those temporary positions took on my psyche.

I’ve traveled before, for sure. I’ve been to over twenty countries, including a study abroad program, and I’ve been to forty-six of the United States. I have not been bitten by the travel bug, per se, like some of my friends have (a much worse bug has bitten me: the writing bug), but it’s safe to say that I do like to travel.

But this business of moving to a temporary spot is so much more than mere travel. When you travel, you are visiting a place, and you may imagine what it would be like to live there, but you do not see it as home. You do not have to fit into that place and society and culture and make a life there. Home, for a traveler, is the place you will return to when your trip is over. Perhaps it is this mentality that makes big moves easier for some people, thinking they’ll move back home someday.

I’ve moved before, for sure. When I moved for college, I moved to a new city. But I could always “go back home” if I decided not to stay. And when I moved after college, it easily became a home simply because I had no intention of leaving. It’s hard to explain, but even though I had no intention of staying for the rest of my life, leaving seemed far off in the distant future, “someday.”

But in the last two years, moving to a new place was different in a way I did not expect. I thought it would be exciting to live in a new city and culture, and it was. But it mainly felt empty. Knowing we would leave in six months (it ended up being eight months and nine months, respectively) but not knowing where we would go made it so I was not motivated to make a home in the temporary places. I met people, but I did not make an effort to get to know them or make permanent friends. What was the point? Looking back, I wish I had because I see now that every phase of life is temporary, and you pick up friends along the way and carry them through those phases with you.

In the end, it meant leaving a home that we loved, twice moving into places we knew would be very temporary (<1 year), driving across the country twice (two different routes, totaling roughly 6,000 miles across thirteen states and dipping into three more), and going through everything we own Marie Kondo-style so we could downsize and not be too burdened with too much stuff (it’s amazing how much stuff you can stuff into an attic over only four years).

I’m not sure I recommend moving to three different states over a span of two years. It was a hassle, and it was expensive, even though we did much of the packing and moving ourselves and re-used boxes and packing material. And I learned that while I do not fancy the idea of staying put somewhere for the rest of my life, the nomadic life is not for me, either. It was too distracting to not know what was next. But at the same time, I learned to prepare in a different way, rather than preparing for a permanent life. It opened my mind to a flexibility that I am still adjusting to and learning to love.

On top of it, not only did driving across the country twice with two very different routes allow us to see different cultures and economies within our country, the three cities we lived in had vastly different cultures, as well. That exposure to so many people and places in such a short amount of time was eye-opening. All the different cultures and general opinions on politics and how to live or operate in society or govern a city ← these were not differences I could blame on changing times or world events, only on geography. Driving through a small town, I would find myself staring at a local, wondering, “What would that person be like if they had grown up in the city I was in yesterday?” (and ask the reciprocal question for the big city I would be in the next day.)

Moving, though, and living the semi-nomadic life for two years, was a good thing, I think. It would have been easy to stay in the house and job and city that were already familiar, but I learned so much from this experience, even if I would never do it again.

Moving to a temporary place, knowing it is not forever, meeting people you know you will not likely keep in touch with, having temporary friends where you both know that neither of you will make the effort to keep in touch when you leave was all very eye-opening. Having to learn new cultures and fit into a society where I knew no one and meant nothing to anybody was both humbling and liberating.

I learned to cherish people you connect with and hold onto the friends you have. I learned that there is such a thing as an instant connection, the people you know you will make every effort to stay in touch with. I learned it’s a rare and beautiful thing when you simply “click” with someone. It’s worth the effort to keep them in your life.

It was so much more than imagining a life some place, like you might when you visit a new city on vacation; it was setting enough roots to take if we decided to stay but not making them so deep that it would be hard to leave. I would find myself at the grocery store or at a park wondering if the people around me were planning to stay there. Or if they had originally planned to just be there temporarily but life did it’s thing and got busy keeping them there while they were making plans to leave. Or if they, like me, were just passing through, linking that piece of geography with that phase of their lives. And then I saw that whether they realize it or not, they are just passing through. Like myself, they are not a permanent existence there, either, even if they live there their whole lives.

Moving to such different places in such small increments of time allowed me to see how people, just in general, live. I’ve seen that people do this: They have things, and they live in a place. And it’s really all the same, from the shack with crappy things in it to the mansion with only the finest in the world. We’re here, we exist, and then we leave. We take none of these things with us.

And the selfishness of making the most of your life — for what purpose and to what end — it doesn’t matter. We were not the first to move or to enjoy scenery or places or experiences. And we will not be the last. And our experiences are not the same as others, not the same as those who have lived before and are now long gone, not the same as those who have yet to come, and not even the same as those who are here today. Even when we go through the same things and see the same things and do the same things and have the same things happen to us, the experience is not the same. The effect is not the same, and that difference is important. It’s important to share the differences with each other and learn the different sides of the same story.

We don’t own the world or our experiences; we just pass through and change the world in the process, for better or for worse and whether we mean to or not. It’s that change, the way we influence the world around us while we’re here, that matters, however big or small, however intentional or unintentional.

Like our house that we decided to sell to whomever is living in it now and the two apartments we lived in for what we knew would be a short time and even the house we are in now that we do not plan on vacating, we take care of it for the next people and prepare it for them. It’s the same for our existence in the world: We come into it, stay for awhile, and then we leave, and in the process, we take care of it for the next inhabitants. That’s what I’ve learned in this process. It will still be here when I’m not; it will go on without me, with or without my blessing or consent. It’s a humbling realization that both carries a tremendous amount of weight and yet somehow also takes the load off because it’s not all on me. I can see it now, how all those little things that stress us out don’t really matter, that life and happiness are the same on all levels, and that in the end, taking every opportunity to leave things better than how you found them is the only thing that matters.

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