If You Could Live Anywhere

I met someone recently who has lived in the same city and state for his entire life of 60 plus years. He’s moved once – from the house where he grew up to the house he lives in now. He’s been at the same job for 40 years, and for the past 25 years, he’s met weekly for dinner with his friends from third grade.

If You Could Live Anywhere

I can’t imagine living in the same place for my entire life or still knowing friends from grade school, or middle school, or even from high school for that matter. I’ve moved almost as many times as I am years old, and I’m closing in on 65. It gets in your bones, moving. I can feel an itch after I’ve been somewhere for a while because my normal has always been change. I find it difficult to settle, to resist the itch. I long for roots, for a sense of belonging. I experience a sense of temporariness everywhere I go even though I am good at creating a cozy – even magical – environment to live in. I once complained to my dad that the Air Force life was hard on us kids – I’d moved 12 times by the time I was 16. “Bullshit!” my dad retorted. “You learned adaptability!” He’s right! I did! I’ve developed super sensitive sensors and my intuition is sharp. I can quickly scope out a situation and figure my way around. I’m not afraid of being somewhere new because I’m confident I will find a way to fit in, even if by becoming invisible.

As a kid, I was excited to contemplate the fresh beginnings that came with moving, the chance to start over, to leave the mess behind, and to fantasize about a clean, blank slate. It was sad, though, to leave my friends, the little communities I became part of and found comfort in. I tried to stay connected through letter-writing with my now pen-pals, but that proved impossible over time because we would live somewhere for six months, move to another place for a year, and then to another. The string of lost friends grew, and eventually people dropped off. I couldn’t help but stop trying. It’s challenging to remember all of the places I’ve lived and friends I’ve found and then lost. When I was a kid in a new place, I remember recognizing people I thought I knew from the last place I’d lived, as if the same people were everyone, but in slightly altered bodies. When I map out my life’s journey, the map looks like a spider’s web – from Illinois to Texas to Wisconsin to Newfoundland to New Jersey to Florida to Alaska to Florida to Maryland to Maine to Washington to New York.

Five years ago, I decided to relocate from New York to California. My kids were all out west. I work remotely so I can live anywhere as long as I have internet and am near an airport. I had nothing left holding me in the east. My belongings were packed in a POD, my bicycle was strapped to the back of my car. My dog and I headed west to LA where my daughter and her family live. Even though I wasn’t able to quite imagine myself living in this sprawling city, I decided to give it a try anyway. I love the weather, the Pacific Ocean, the desert, the succulents, the art community, the vibe. I am finding my communities and establishing roots. I don’t have to choose between the mountains, or farms, or beaches, or cities because because I have access to them all.

It’s been a hard year for all of us. We’ve been deeply impacted and changed forever by the pandemic. For me, in addition to the pandemic, my father died. I temporarily lost my job. My daughters’ marriages ended. It’s been a particularly bad year. Though I love where I am, I am feeling unsettled, and that compulsive, familiar itch for change is nagging at me. But what am I seeking? The sun and the moon and the birds are wherever I go, and so am I.

This Happened

I was drawn in.

My daughter asked me to help her choose a sari for a wedding celebration. In our quest for a store that sold saris, we wound up at a Hare Krishna temple. I haven’t been to a Hare Krishna temple since I left the movement over thirty years ago. My daughter saw that I was visibly shaken. ¬†“I’m okay,” I said, “let’s go,” and we walked inside. My daughter was five when I left the Hare Krishna movement. She doesn’t have a conscious memory of that life.

img_3419The Govinda gift shop and the ladies who worked there were lovely. Their faces were welcoming and effulgent, and they were kind and helpful to my daughter. The shop was filled with saris and cholis and dhotis and kirtas. ¬†Brass dieties. Incense. Dr. Bonner’s soaps. Baby Krishna.

I asked if there were discounts for devotees. I found myself compelled to tell them I was a twice initiated disciple – by Srila Prabhupada – a devotee like them! I had this odd longing to belong again to so much memory.

We heard music in the temple room, so we slipped our shoes off and went inside. A devotee was leading kirtana. Another devotee was placing an offering of food at the feet of a life-size statue of the guru, Srila Prabhupada. I stood with my daughter wrapped in my arms against my chest, remembering ten years of this life. We both wept.

And then I was angry. I remembered the children who were separated from their families and sent to the Gurukula schools, and who were abused and mistreated. There are so many deeply disturbing stories. I remembered the corrupt behavior of the leaders that we all rationalized as acceptable because we believed everything they did was in the service of God. I remembered the tricks we were taught to play on non-devotees to coerce money from them because we were convinced that taking from their pockets for the service of God would only benefit them. I remembered the cruelness inflicted on me and how vulnerable and devastated I was. They will say things are different now. If they are, where is the apology?