My friend and colleague Julia and I are both leaving at the end of the school year, and she asked me the other day how I was feeling about the upcoming transition. I realized that I’ve been so caught up in end-of-schoolyear busyness, I haven’t taken much time to process the massive change that’s about to take place. I’m awfully cavalier about moving–it just feels like normal life to me. I’ve moved 19 times, and 13 of those moves were across states. But the truth is, in any normal move, there’s a whole lot of crazy-hard stuff to deal with.
First, there’s processing all of your belongings, passing every clothing item, book, and dish through your hands, asking yourself if it means enough to you to pay to haul it a couple thousand miles across the country. That in itself is a mini-identity crisis. What do these objects mean to me? What kinds of value do I place on my possessions? Does each of these things still have a place with the person I am and the person I’ll become after the move? Am I the kind of person who owns four extension cords and two garden hoses? You think about functionality and utility and sentimental value and aesthetic quality and possible future need and space concerns UNTIL YOU JUST SERIOUSLY CANNOT EVEN. And then it’s time to pour a glass of wine.
Regular, ordinary moves include a series of semi-traumatic moments that we may not even process as trauma at the time. I think that living in an ocean of boxes is slightly traumatic. So is doing multiple Goodwill runs. And watching the truck pull away with your stuff. And–my personal favorite–walking through the empty rooms, that you last saw as empty when you were full of hopes and dreams and plans for your new place. And maybe having to reconcile who you thought you’d be after those three years (four years, five years) with who you presently are. The idealism of the new beginning collides with the realism of retrospect.
Goodbyes are hard in various ways. Some go on WAY longer and are WAY more emotional than you thought they’d be (really? you’re gonna miss me that much, after we had like three conversations in the last six months?) and some are painfully abrupt. Sometimes the people you most need to say extended goodbyes to aren’t very good at saying goodbye. For those people, you have to treasure the great memories you had with them, and don’t let a negative goodbye overshadow the good times. And then there’s the goodbyes that are just plain awkward. “Well, I guess I’ll see you around! Oh wait, no I won’t…well, guess I’ll see you in heaven! Ha ha, I mean, maybe.” I have no advice for the awkward ones, except maybe remember the details so that you can tell your spouse a funny story later.
Every move involves a shift in identity; even people with a solid sense of self become slightly different versions of themselves in new places. You adapt, and you survive. But change takes time, and it takes more time the longer you’ve been rooted somewhere, and it takes even MORE time if the place you’re moving to is radically different from the place you’re leaving. The mover’s most crucial virtue is patience.
Another crucial virtue is presence. It’s awfully tempting to start mentally living in New Place while you’re still in Old Place. It’s easy to deal with daily frustrations by fantasizing about how soon you’ll be ditching them and running away. But that’s not an effective way of handling the hardships that will be just as present (in different forms) in your future life as they are in your current life. Be present. Be grateful. Recognize what you’ve been given today, and don’t try to borrow tomorrow’s grace to handle it.
So, in answer to Julia’s question…I’m dreading what I know is coming, but I’m also working hard to exercise patience, to stay present, and to cut myself slack when the to-do list gets long. There’s an art to moving, and I know I haven’t perfected it yet. Maybe the 20th time is the charm.