In New York City, life is manipulated, by which I mean that “nature” has been sorely stretched around the machinations of human, urban life. What was once an island feels more like a concrete raft, tethered to more concrete. The land beneath the stone that once breathed is no more, a machine more than an ecosystem.
In the fall and winter, the city is magical, but in the spring and summer, when the snow turns to gray slush and then the air becomes like a wet sauna, it is oppressive. The ways in which we can connect to the world beyond human control, to the world’s majesty and mystery, are not sources of inspiration, but rather, of irritation.
This is what drew Jack and me to California: the promise of a life lived closer to the rhythms of the earth. Now, I have lived in Ohio, Vermont, and the English countryside, so Los Angeles is nature-lite for me, but we craved something we felt this city could offer.
We chased the light here.
Since leaving New York, the city we loved and sometimes loathed, we have been semi-nomads. (We were wandering and contemplating, but not couch-surfing.) We basked in the warmth of summer in Ohio, stopped in LA, then continued on to the wilds of Australia, where Jack’s family lives. Within that time, we found a home, a Spanish cottage with lavender planted in the front yard and enough bookshelves to fit our plethora of books.
Enmeshed in details, we picked up the keys, bought a new mattress, planned how to best unpack the boxes. And then, the morning of the day we planned to sleep in the house, we found half the house under an inch of water. Pipes had broken, the wood floors had buckled, everything from the windows to our furniture were covered in a layer of moisture.
The problem had been brewing for months, we were later told. The water had seeped from the bottom of the floor through the surface slowly and steadily. It just so happened that the water became visible that morning. We would not be able to live in the house for at least a month, possibly more.
This move has not been easy. At nearly every turn, we’ve encountered some sort of setback. The summer rental market was a “weird” one with fewer options than usual, the moving company did not ship our belongings when they said they would (setting our move-in date back 10 days), I tried to change a lightbulb in the house and nearly electrocuted myself, and now this: we were an inch away from living in a new home and it suddenly became uninhabitable.
In the grand scheme of human suffering, these struggles are minute. They are all fixable problems with tangible solutions, but nevertheless, they are exhausting. They absorb the energy I’d planned to direct toward other things, like writing, applying to grad school again, finding a volunteer position, making new connections, spending time with my brother.
“Why is this so hard? Why do I feel so uncertain?” I asked to the void at 3 am. I missed New York, then, with unexpected strength. I missed our friends and our neighborhood. I missed our clean, neat, uncomplicated apartment. I missed the familiarity of the city streets, the corner coffee shop, the subway. I missed knowing how to get things done. I missed the toggle between the sun and the rain. All of this hit me like a wave. “What am I doing here??”
Within four days, we packed up all our belongings to be stored and sanitized. Back to square one, so it seems.
To my astonishment, the following days were filled not with lament, but with acceptance. “This is where we are, and we are together.” We are rising earlier and meditating. We are finding ways to begin again, here, without the stability or responsibility of a house and with more financial freedom.
On the same beach where we first had discussed moving to LA, Jack and I breathed more deeply. The salt, water, and sunshine like sacraments we could receive. I realized then, above the fray, that even though my experience of this place has been disappointing, I want this place to become a part of me. A part of the way I see the world. A part of the way I view myself and my own strength. A part of my marriage, a part of my family. In truth, growing is never easy.
While we know not whether we will stay or go, whether we will live in California forever or not, whether we will find a new home or wait it out, even in the instability we are attended to. The gift of this all is the reminder that we are not alone. We can carry these things together.
This weekend, I came across a resonant passage in Sarah Bessey’s new book, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things. I share it now that it might bring you some peace and perspective, too:
“I need – then and now – the God who sits in the mud and in the cold wind, in the laundry pile and in the city park, who is as present in homework and nightly baths and homemade meals and hospital rooms and standing by caskets. I need a God with teeth and hunger, who embodies grief and joy; wisdom and patience; renewal with simplicity and a good, deep breath; and who even now shows up in the unlikeliest and homeliest of lives too, as a sacrament and a blessing for the ordinary incarnation of feet on the ground and baptism of the water and wings wide in the sky. I have come to love the mud and the reds, and the water and the quiet day, just as much as the feel of the wind in my hair as I take flight and soar.”