For those who don’t know, I recently moved from California to Texas. I lived in California for 24 years – all my life. For the first 18 of those years, I lived in the Bay Area, and that was home. When I moved to Los Angeles and spent six years there, I experienced a redefinition of home. It was no longer the Bay Area. It wasn’t Los Angeles either. It was the whole state. As long as I could watch the sunset over the mighty blue Pacific, as long as I was near the familiar Live Oak perched on the golden-brown hill, as long as I could see “Congress Created Dust Bowl” signs and was paying absurdly high sales taxes, I knew I was home.
I’m growing to love Texas. The state tries hard to simulate home for me (wildfires), which is thoughtful of it, but no charred remains of grassland will ever be the same to me as the charred remains of multimillion dollar homes.
Of course I miss things from the Golden State, but I’m always shocked to realize just what I miss. Some of the things I expected to miss, I hardly think about, and some things I never would’ve even thought to miss, I find myself longing for almost daily.
This leads me to wonder: what can we learn about ourselves from what we miss? Are the people and things we long for more telling for who we are than the things we enjoyed when we had them? There are things that I love that I hardly think about anymore, and things about which I was indifferent that I fondly recall. What dictates our yearning?
I miss the truck stop at Frazier Mountain Park. I miss seeing signs for Avenal. I miss the Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella, even though I’m pretty sure I ate there once. These are unremarkable elements of my past, but if I were to write an autobiography today, it would read: “…My life as a young adult brought me close to Avenal many times. I often remember stopping in Frazier Mountain Park for gas. And once, I ate at Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella. Six years later, when I moved to Texas…” Somehow these are at the forefront of my mind, whereas the major details – UCLA, my travels in Europe, my job – aren’t.
Equally confounding is my yearning for people – people I hardly knew, or good acquaintances and lower tier friends I would occasionally talk to when our paths crossed. I of course miss many of my good friends, but it frightens me just how many I don’t. I love them, and I care about them, but I don’t miss them. Perhaps it’s because I know I’ll make an effort to see them again, whereas my distant acquaintances are probably forever lost in my past. (If you’re reading this, please don’t ask me if I miss you. I’ll say ‘no’ out of spite.) Perhaps it’s a longing for the good times that could’ve been over the good times that were – as if the fantasy is greater than the reality.
This leads me to believe that it’s not only our closest and fondest friends and associations we have that make us who we are; it’s those smaller elements and distant characters in the periphery of our lives that truly define us. If we were sculptures, our friends, families, and main events are what would chisel away the block of marble, giving us general shape and human form, but the smaller things and people that pass us by are what softly refine and polish us into detail and artistic merit.
Hence, I would like to thank my friends and family for our good times and bad, as I expect to have many more in the future. But, to my loosest acquaintances and hardly-strangers, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude for teaching me things about myself I wasn’t even aware through the longing for a past that can never be.
I will now quote poetry no one will understand:
Ile cię trzeba cenić, ten tylko się dowie,
Kto cię stracił.
– Adam Mickiewicz