In my adult life, the concept of ‘roots’ has always been an alien one. During the last 7 years, I’ve lived and worked in 8 different countries, and vacationed in 8 more. But recently, my roaming tendencies have reached a new peak: in the last 10 weeks alone, I’ve flown on 17 planes and slept on 23 beds. My suitcase is my only constant companion. And change has become my routine.
This nomadic chapter has been amazing, in many ways. But the strongest impression I’m left with isn’t one particular experience from my travels, but rather, the only thing that unites all people and places: their impermanence. I’ve been forced to accept, on a daily basis, that the life I’m comfortable with will one day change. Possessions wear down, landscapes transform, people grow and move away. This may seem like a very basic truth, but I think that most people fail to embrace this concept in their daily lives. I know I did.
In September, I went home to New York for the first time in over year. I was expecting everything to be just as it always had been. It’s my home, after all, which is supposed to be the greatest place of comfort and consistency. A place where I just ‘fit’ – no questions asked.
But it wasn’t quite like that anymore. The house I grew up in – my home – was sold a month before I returned. Everywhere I stayed, I felt like a guest, not a resident coming home from a long trip. My brother, the love of my life, could only fit in one day to see me after my absence for an entire year. My friends had changed their jobs, priorities, and partners. The city was still as vivacious as ever, but I had to navigate “the scene” through tourist magazines rather than inviting emails from the groups to which I belonged.
The unexpected change tore through to my core. In my travels, I’ve always looked forward to strangers asking where I’m from, so that I can proudly tout “New York! The greatest city in the world,” – with a beaming smile strewn across my face. But the Big Apple, as I had come to define it, had altered our relationship and tangled my roots. I felt unsettled and confused. It was the only part of my identity that had remained constant through my 25 years of existence.
My second week in NY, I went to a small, off-Broadway play called “We’re Going to Die.” This quirky show is the producer’s attempt to relate some lessons she has learned from her personal experiences with grief. The moral is that, as humans, we all have those gut-churning, lonely, unhappy moments in our lives. The best remedy for coping with these feelings, she prescribes, is to continually remind ourselves that we will, one day, die.
Although the maxim may come off cryptic or depressing, its implications strongly resounded with me. When I’m feeling sad or unsettled, the last thing I want to hear from someone is that “it’s all going to be ok,” or “everything happens for a reason.” You can’t expect a restless heart to internalize that knowledge and be suddenly soothed. My angst about NY was something I needed to embrace, deconstruct, and wrestle with. The active awareness that I would one day die gave me the abrupt comfort that my sorrow will die too. And more importantly, the threat of nonexistence gave me immediate insight into the triviality of my troubles. Accepting that both my life and my feelings are impermanent liberated me from my disappointment.
I also realized that, as much as New York had changed, so too had I. The Indian culture had laid its handprint on my heart, remolding many of my feelings, perceptions, beliefs, and passions. The permanent notion I had of myself a year before in New York was a fallacy in my head. Since I had grown so much in one year, how could I have ever expected New York to stay that same? My parents are advancing into the post-parenting stage of their lives, when their decisions are once again their own. My friends are shaping their itineraries and communities to accommodate the professions and dreams that they had chiseled out for their lives. And New York City? Well she is stubbornly maintaining her reputation as an untamable beast – no matter how many times I have ridden her saddle. Between us all, the only thing that unites us is the surety that we will continue to transform, adjust, and mature. That we are all impermanent in ourselves and how we relate to our surroundings.
After several more stops in my nomadic expedition, I have finally put my feet in the sand in Mumbai. I plan to make this city my home – laboring to learn Hindi, study local politics, and embed myself in the social ecosystem. The fourth biggest city in the world, Mumbai is the commercial and entertainment capital of India. This metropolis is known for its eccentric energies embodied in graffiti murals, thief bazaars, floating mosques, spicy street food and bombastic, bright-light festivals. As a city of unbridled opportunity and limitless diversity, Mumbai holds the promise of a lot growth and success for both me and my company. But as I make my nest, I proceed with caution, not to become too shackled to the outcomes that I hope to achieve by living here. For every physical attachment I make, for every solid conclusion I draw – I try to balance it with the knowledge that the people, things, and ideas around me are dynamic, and will continue to change. If I accept their impermanence and resist the comforts of attaching myself to the static reality of the moment, then I believe that I will never be disappointed. Rather, every change that occurs will simply add another color to the canvas of my life. In this way, the mindset of impermanence has truly released me from my mental cages. I’m free to experiment, to fail, and to fight in my new home. My time in Mumbai, just like my entire existence, is after all, impermanent.