On the huntSunday, 10 October 2010 | 22:25
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. (Anatole France)
For the past several years, I spent nearly every day in a particular neighbourhood in the city. Six months ago, my reason for being there disappeared, and I too disappeared from the neighbourhood. Well, technically, anyway; I’m still in the area twice a week to visit my grandparents, but I never go beyond their home. Further north I had not ventured – until yesterday.
It’s funny; what we do and who we know determines which neighbourhoods we frequent. Any city’s citizens are rarely intimately familiar with every area, every quarter, every street. We have our comfort zones – where we live, where we work, where our favourite haunts are – and we rarely, if ever, leave them. Sitting on the bus yesterday evening riding down Main Street, everything felt normal, banal – until I reached the frontier: the street past which I have rarely gone in the past six months. I felt something shift inside me, a change in my consciousness that was palpable. As the bus continued on its route, I felt myself slipping into a time warp. Looking out the window at these streets which had once been so familiar to me, so quotidian, I suddenly felt foreign and strange. I recognised those streets, I remembered them; I could hear them telling me their stories, stories that I already knew but hadn’t heard in a long time. For the first time in quite awhile, I felt nostalgic.
The bus turned, and we went from one neighbourhood to another. The sun was beginning to set; there was a faint smell of smoke in the air from the odd backyard fire pit. I knew that the last time I had been on that street, in that area, was months ago, in another life. Something totally unprovocative, unremarkable: the fodder of everyday life. And yet yesterday it felt so powerful, almost overwhelming. For the first time in quite awhile, I felt sad.
I do not lead an empty life. I love the people in my life; I enjoy my job; I’m not lacking in passions or things to do or places to go; I’m feeling settled in my soul. I’m relatively happy. And yet, something has been missing. It’s been quietly gnawing on me for awhile. I hadn’t been able to put my finger on what, exactly, has been bothering me – until last night. I got off the bus one stop too late, and had to walk awhile; it was then that it dawned on me. Something so simple and cliched as to be embarrassing to admit: I feel purpose-less. Not necessarily lacking in goals or ambitions; but in a sense of building towards something.
I spent most of my twenties building towards something: building a life in a city in which I hadn’t counted on staying for long, building a life with someone. Relationships are always complicated. It wasn’t just him; I thought about all the people and places that had become part of the rhythm of my life over the course of the past eight years. And when a relationship ends, or metastasizes into something almost unrecogniseable, you lose not only a partner, but a whole network of people and places that you had become a part of, and that had become a part of you. Family and friends, restaurants and parks, streets and homes you visited regularly are suddenly divorced from your reality. Which isn’t to say that this new reality is necessarily unpleasant; it’s merely become a shadow of its former self. A skeleton lacking meat on its bones, a corpse waiting to be fattened up. A life waiting to be rebuilt in a different way. What I had been building for all those years had already collapsed before my eyes; the shaky foundation gave way some time ago, despite our honest efforts. But as I walked through those familiar streets last night, I realised that I had lost something else in the implosion: the main thing I had been focused on for years. My “purpose”.
By the time I left the store, darkness had settled over the city. As I waited for the bus, a couple out for an evening power walk strode quickly by, hand in hand. I realised it’s been over six months since anyone has taken my hand. The bus pulled up, and I climbed on, groceries in hand, and took a seat near the back. It was too dark to see out the window; all I could see was my own reflection staring back at me.