I am leaving the country in about three and a half months. I’ll be gone for a year. I really don’t know if I’ll live in the same state again when I come back, or whether I’ll come back after my master’s program is done. I’ve never lived outside of the state of my birth. The longest I’ve ever been gone for is a month. I’ve lived in the same city for all of that time except the three years I spent at college (only 45 minutes away).
What I’m saying is that it finally feels like I’m leaving home for the first time.
What’s odd is that it has become highly apparent to me that we only begin to value things when we’re about to lose them (ok not always but oftentimes). Part of this is that we don’t always take advantage of opportunities right in front of us until we’re about to lose those opportunities. I’ve been noticing that I’ve started to feel a tenderness towards places that seemed mundane and boring for most of my life, and even more than that I’ve felt a deep desire to explore the city I’ve lived in for 23 years. I suddenly feel as if I’ve been missing out on all the amazing things that are right in front of me (and that I knew were there), but really just didn’t feel motivated to get up and do.
It feels like a kind of preemptive nostalgia. I know that I will miss all of this when I’m gone. I know that there are so many things of comfort to me here, places I’ve known my whole life. I know that there’s a level of “home”ness to this city that I doubt I will ever find elsewhere: I have memories from my every year of my life here, I know the city itself extremely well, I know nearly every free activity that is available, I know the theaters and the bars and the restaurants and the music venues. While I may come to know another city quite well, it’s doubtful that I’ll ever have the same innate knowledge of another place again, the knowledge that comes from living here, having a mother that lived here, and grandparents that lived here, and learning the stories that they tell of the city and its history.
There are few situations where I will ever be able to take advantage of a feeling like this. I’ve very intentionally been looking for ways to get out and engage with the things that make my home what it is. I’m going to plays, festivals, parades. I’m looking for new ways to see the city by biking around lakes (once it warms up I hope), leaving the apartment, getting outside. Because I know ahead of time that I will leave and I am starting to feel the fear of change, I get to savor the time that I have left here. I get to make the effort to see things positively before I go.
I wonder if there is ever a way to have this kind of preemptive nostalgia in other situations? When we’re feeling frustrated with a partner or a friend, what would it be like to imagine not having them around anymore? When we’re frustrated with school or a job, what would happen if we think of it ending? Especially when relationships are going sour, we rarely see the end of it as a time to reflect on the things we loved about it. But what if we did? It’s hard to break up with someone, and we often agonize over it because we don’t want to hurt the other person, there are things we still love. But what if we could look at the relationship with the kind of nostalgia we have when high school ends or when we leave a place we love? Perhaps it would hurt less, and remind us more of what was good.
Or maybe this is just a way of letting myself be sad for longer, of not really existing in the moment and enjoying what I’m doing. Maybe it’s a way of only appreciating things once I don’t have to experience them anymore. For now I will simply see it as an opportunity to appreciate in the moment.