The overwrought, neurotic Mrs. Bennet declares in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that she has “no desire to be going here and there” all the time and that she would much prefer to stay at home and rest her “poor nerves.”
I wonder what people of Austen’s day or of other sedentary eras of human history would think about the expansive and fast-paced mobility of modern society. It goes beyond immigration. It’s a new twist on the pioneer spirit that has people, either by choice or by default, taking up a semi-nomadic life. In a highly connected world, it’s possible to skip town without abandoning family and friends, which makes the lifestyle more viable than in ages past. A smaller contingent has embraced something akin to global citizenship: a conscious embracing of multiple national identities. One of Tim’s fellow seminary students is a Korean who grew up in New Zealand and whose English combines Korean, Kiwi, and Midwest-American accents.
Although Tim and I aren’t “global citizens,” we both enjoy living in new places and experiencing life from different perspectives. We tried the sedentary life for about 5 years in Colorado–bought a house, got good jobs, found a church home, settled down. It didn’t stick. Somehow we found our walking shoes again and trekked further West to California. This move was definitely the hardest one for me, because I’d lived in Colorado longer than anywhere else. I found myself going through different emotional stages during the move. I think I’d experienced them all before, but they were definitely more pronounced this time. I want to write them all down now so that I’m better mentally prepared for the next move, whenever that may be. So here they are, in roughly chronological order.
1. Honeymoon. This the stage where everything seems perfect. You’re entranced by the benefits of New Place, and any downsides get conveniently overlooked. Old Place had boring mountains; New Place has beaches! Old Place had cold weather; New Place has year-round warmth and sunshine! The house we had in Old Place had too much space; the guest house in New Place is the perfect amount of room! And the list goes on. Poor Old Place always suffers by comparison, while New Place is the shiny toy that you are never, ever going to get tired of. And if there are ants in the bedroom or the weather’s a little too hot, well that’s just part of the adventure!
2. Loathing. The game of Compare & Contrast continues, but this time, New Place is on the outs. You hate everything about it, and the things you thought you loved at first, you also hate. The beach is too far away and too crowded. The weather NEVER changes, and you miss those breathtaking thunderstorms. The foothills aren’t even close to mountains. And all that space you lost in the move! How much more of your life will you be forced to dump at Goodwill just to be able to squeeze everything into 500 fewer square feet? Every trip out is a chore, because you frequently get turned around, even with a GPS. All the stores where you’re used to shopping aren’t there anymore. Everything is ridiculously expensive. You are constantly drenched in sweat and can’t seem to cool down for even a minute. The ants are EVERYWHERE and they refuse to die. On top of that, you’re lonely, living in the midst of a cardboard chaos, and wondering what fit of madness compelled you to move. The grass of Old Place is looking green and lovely from the other side.
3. Peace-making. This stage is something akin to an uneasy truce in wartime. The loathing subsides, you realize that there’s no going back and you consciously choose to make the best of it. You whittle down the stack of boxes and buy a few new items to beautify New Place. You get a gallon of powerful bugspray and annihilate the little boogers. You learn tricks like refrigerating a wet bandana before wearing it around your neck to keep you cool. You start to learn your way around; maybe you even run into someone you met at church. You’re gradually negotiating the terms of living in your new surroundings and learning how to thrive. You have to actively make New Place work or Loathing will slip quickly into Bitterness, and then you just won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. Optimism becomes your most critical attribute.
4. Acceptance. You have moved well beyond “tolerance” and are now at a place where you can enjoy the wonderful attributes of New Place while expertly navigating its pitfalls. This isn’t a return to Honeymoon stage; it’s an honest embracing of your new life because it’s accompanied by true understanding rather than fleeting first impressions. You’ve started to form a network of relationships that provides you with much-needed support and comfort. Some of these people are also experiencing the tougher stages of moving, and you can commiserate with them. But others have lived in New Place for many years and love it deeply. If you listen carefully, you can see New Place through their eyes and start to really love it. You fully realize the truth that every place has its benefits and disadvantages, and you’ve learned how to enjoy the first and handle the second. You may, on occasion, return briefly to Loathing, but your good sense will win out in the end, and acceptance will become your permanent state.
I think there might be another stage after acceptance–something like “adopted native.” I’ve never lived anyplace long enough to get there, but I’m pleased to report that I am now happily situated in the stage of Acceptance. While I still miss Colorado, I’m thoroughly enjoying my new home, new church, new job, and new friends in Escondido.
However, I heartily echo the sentiment of Mrs. Bennet when I say that I am inclined to stay here for a while and rest my poor nerves.