For as long as I can remember, I have felt an insatiable longing to be somewhere I am not. Call it what you will—restlessness, wanderlust, the need to escape the borders of my sun-soaked island home for the frigid shores of a country halfway across the world. I was thirteen when I made the decision to leave Singapore and attend college in America. Five years later, I hopped on a flight bound for the heartlands of suburban Connecticut, the maddening desire to roam alive and well in my intrepid, sentimental heart.
I spent the better part of my undergraduate career racking up frequent flyer miles by venturing to as many novel locations as my wallet could accommodate. During my junior year abroad at Oxford, I punctuated trimesters of slogging through Shakespeare’s entire canon with budget jaunts to quaint European towns. I have returned to Singapore a grand total of six times in the past four and a half years, whiling away the intervening stretches a good 9,458 miles away from my childhood abode.
When penning the narrative of my future wayfaring existence, I always reckoned that the transition from living with family to setting out on my own would be relatively effortless. In hindsight, the younger, less weathered version of myself was unable to fully reckon with the other side of the coin—the less glamorous components of a prolonged suitcase lifestyle marked by constant geographical transitions, and the unshakable sensation of physical displacement that intensifies the longer you are separated from the place you once called home.
The joy of splitting time between multiple countries is often undermined by the need to repeatedly build up and tear down makeshift homes as you move between destinations. Long journeys back and forth teach you to refuse accumulation, to reject connections that could prove too painful to sever when the moment comes for you to continue on your way. You spend your days weaving in and out of a commotion of cultures, never allowing yourself to wholly sink into community or get too comfortable. Then there are the little things: jet lag, time zones, perpetual visa paperwork, the uncanny ability of distance to corrode even the best of relationships.
Moreover, as much as we may hate to admit it, things have a disconcerting way of proceeding in our absence. Childhood haunts are torn down to make way for new construction, loved ones establish new routines, our beds refuse to adapt to the contours of our spines the way they used to. Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult for me to take these short trips back without feeling a growing disconnect with the people and places once so familiar to me, coupled with a deep sense of loss at all I have chosen to give up. Each time I leave my grandmother cups my cheeks in her worn and wrinkled hands, purses her lips to the crest of my forehead, and begs me to come home for good. I am socked in the gut with worry—afraid that by the next time I return, she will have forgotten my name.
We are a restless community of solitary wanderers—traversing cities and continents, trying to keep our best parts glued together, to keep ourselves whole. Perhaps the only way for us to stay grounded amidst a life of perpetual motion is by putting our faith in tiny rituals that are mobile and malleable, that can be shoulder with us as miniature versions of home—a cup of freshly brewed black coffee to begin every morning, photographs of rambunctious family gatherings tacked on to multiple bedroom walls, christening each new abode with a midnight dance of gratitude and grace. This is how we temper the landlessness, how we anchor ourselves in time and space.
Home is presence and feeling, a deep-seated sense of rootedness that has little to do with property, physicality, or geographical location. It resonates within each individual being, drawing our minds and bodies close to the earth whether we are navigating our way through yet another bustling metropolis, moonbathing on a mountain peak in Boulder, Utah, or partaking in a solo cycle around the Aran Islands. It allows us to forge intimate connections with numerous places regardless of our length of stay, and the audacity to name them as our own.
Saying goodbye never gets any easier. I have missed more first steps, birthdays, and important life events than I can bear to keep track of. But I am grateful for the myriad adventures. For the kindness of strangers in foreign spaces. For finding ways to carry home with me wherever I go.
Published in The Transitions Collection of The Førager