There are many of us: young, thoughtful, adventurous types, or so we would style ourselves.
We itch to see the world beyond where we grew up, that city where we took piano lessons and played soccer, harbored small rebellions while earning the good grades and trophies that showed off our parents’ shepherding of our little gifts.
We know, we have learned, that we can be anything we want to be. We can go anywhere we want to go. We are special and smart and important and we are also all a little lost and a little lonely. To be charged with greatness is no small task.
Loneliness is not unique to our generation, but our generation is particularly susceptible to it. We have not exchanged place and family for trajectory and career, as some critics of our generation would have it – we have exchanged them all for experience. The next border, the farther hill, something that will suddenly fill the restlessness we can’t explain in the places that should be home.
There is a children’s book about a snail who leaves looking for home and finds it only when he circles back to where he started. For us it is more complicated than that. My family had moved ten times by the time I was ten, and we have no history in the place where we eventually landed. When I left my parents’ house, I moved through nine more homes in four years – I have no deep sentiment for place, no understanding that I pertain to somewhere.
This is what it is, it seems, to be 21 and unattached. “Settling down” is just that – “settling,” and wanderlust becomes a virtue. We are young, this is what it is to be young, and we want to live widely, we want more and better experiences, we want most of all to never be bored.
Who are we? We are not materialistic – we scoff at materialism. Handbags are gauche, but those who have traveled more widely, more boldly, more obscurely earn their own type of status. “When I lived in Phnom Penh… in New Delhi… in Accra…” whether a week or a month or a few scattered seasons we crave something beyond the same tomorrows. Like a drug we chase it, that thrill, that reminder that we are interested and we are interesting.
I met people living widely on my own wide travels – at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, in Guatemalan markets, at the open-mike night of my college’s coffee shop. They had been to several continents, had opinions on world politics, listened to playlists where Peruvian folk bands and Romanian rock shared space. They were genuinely interesting people, propelled by a contagious enthusiasm. They were beautiful and confused and looking for something, we all were, whether we knew it or not.
When I was a child, I craved traditions. Our family had grown out of ours, our heritage sloughed off over generations until there were no holidays or songs or foods that were particularly ours. I wanted the warm reassurance of something that stayed the same year after year, wherever we were.
When I was twelve or thirteen I tried to gather my siblings into one bedroom on Christmas Eve for a sleepover I hoped would become annual. Against the bickering and adjusting of sleeping bags and pillows, I would try to read the Christmas story, try to capture the magic that comes when we know exactly what to expect next.
In the years after, one sibling or another would beg off to their own rooms, and now for the first time I won’t be in the country to try to convince them otherwise. Here, alone, I’m reliant on traditions that are alien to me, though I like the way they look.
Perhaps this has something, or everything, to do with what I feel like I am looking for. Somewhere there must be something that will sink with the weight of habit deep enough that it weighs me down.