When you’re young the institutional world in which you live finds ways of making you stop, recall, and prepare. I used to love the time right before school started again when me– and everyone else I knew– began to ready ourselves for what was soon to come. There were always things to miss: long days wearing nothing but your swimsuit, meal after meal of watermelon and hot dogs, the infatuation of someone you knew you wouldn’t see until the next summer. There were also always things to fear: would so-and-so remember such-and-such, how would this go, and that. But most of all was the ritual of expectation for the new stage to come. Discount backpacks and Lunchable snack packs meant that something was about to HAPPEN to you. You must be ready.
As I’ve gotten older I suppose I still tried to find these signposts– or they found me– until maybe I forgot. People who watch their friends’ children grow (I’m guilty of this) often remark at how time has flown. Or friends who move to warmer climes say they miss gearing up for seasons, summer is just not the same. The day literally has the same number of hours for each of us, as does the year, every year. And yet.
Preparing for a long trip such as this can be cathartic for that reason. There’s advanced mourning for the death of the life that in the future will be past and gradual readying oneself for what’s next.
In some meditative traditions there’s a practice where you can imagine your life disappearing. Organ by organ and limb by limb you watch yourself decay before your ever-seeing eyes and still-crossed legs. Preparing to leave one’s “home” and friends and place of work, I’ve found, can take this quality. As much as I might have imagined the feeling of what it would be like for one relationship or habit to end–and have even uprooted my life several times– I don’t think it’s gotten any easier. If you’ve tried such a thing you too may have found that you’re shitty at killing off the things that help keep you cozy. There can be a feeling of literal purging. Throwing away things, sure. But even actual nausea, revealing the death of something, to someone and at the same time again to yourself. Dramatic perhaps!– but so it goes.
On the flip end is the expectation of what’s to come. But mostly so much “to do.” Most of it is eminently mundane. The people you know– imagining the idealized version of themselves in the place that you yourself idealized– will remind you of your adventure, a thing that for now seems more removed to you. For you now there are so many things in between: the minutiae of building scaffolding to bound that big open scary uncertain… You have logistics, details, contingencies to anticipate. You must plan, you know, and yet you see what you’re doing here…
I make it sound dark, but it’s not. There’s the savoring of every single slice of NY pizza, even the crowded subway, the just perfect way your friend who knows you too well tells you something you needed to hear. There’s the feeling of the too-often-hurried ritual of grinding and brewing coffee at home, your coworkers’ Monday questions about your weekend, the glimpse of recognition almost everywhere in this huge supposedly strange and lonely city. These things can give you no security soon, in the future your present will be dead to them. But for now that’s not gone, you are here and not there. Thank goodness you are ready.