To be unmoved

Off the Beat

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My family’s bittersweet odyssey of frequent moving began when I was 4 years old.

If you count the odd interim of 48 hours when we didn’t have a home and were simply a family of five living in a van (not down by any river, but we have joked about it), my family has moved 10 times. While each home was very different from the next, the common thread was the financial instability that initiated them.

I hadn’t really given this history much thought until thousands of college students, including myself, flocked back to their families in March. “Childhood home” suddenly became a buzz phrase, and I realized I was missing perhaps one of the few things that inspire universal nostalgia.

I don’t think I can add anything new to the relatively exhausted discourse on what the word “home” means, in childhood or beyond. But I am all too familiar with what happens in between, what it means to constantly move: to always pull up the flower before it has the chance to grow roots, and then desperately try to replant it, again and again and again.

Today, my family lives in a house nestled in a monochromatic suburb; it’s the house we moved into right before I began my second year of community college. It is a house that, for the first time since I was 4 years old, my parents actually own, a sigh of relief from the long string of homes that were never theirs.

In this ending to our family history of moving, my parents still experience their own kind of restlessness. The kitchen countertops of our house are remarkable because my mother, an avid HGTV watcher, has made them a particular victim of her disdain. They’re made out of marbled granite, a mixture of browns with speckles of black and gray and white. It’s hard to tell sometimes if they’re actually dirty just by looking at them; after all, they’re not exactly the pearly white quartz countertops adorning the renovated kitchens of homes on “Property Brothers.”

But even in that restlessness, the odyssey is over. Family is what ultimately moved my parents physically, and it’s also at the core of what moves their emotional will: They want the best for their children.

I do not have the will that my parents have. Something greater than a leftover desire for something else has always made me feel stagnant in my surroundings, uncomfortable in my own skin. While my past of physical instability has made me long for roots, the truth is that I wonder how it feels to be moved at all.

At the heart of this question is how I see the world in its inherent nakedness, covered so well by the clothes of culture, of mannerisms, of the social fabric that binds people in such a way that the psychological threads in the seams do not snap and reveal what is hiding underneath. With a sort of sixth sense, I feel the anxieties of those threads, acutely aware of the need for approval that runs through us all like an electrical current.

That need for approval, that need to know you’re in a good place, doesn’t necessarily come from others; it stems from what moves us. Some might call it passion, but I think it’s deeper than that. And though I recognize this within myself, I am still unable to empathize, a loose thread in the fabric. Despite the journey, I am still, somehow, unmoved.

In the Old Testament, Lot and his wife were moved by divine command. Or rather, Lot was; his wife, on the other hand, is a sort of enigma, the one who was brought along for the ride until she looked back, condemned in her overwhelming curiosity. But I can understand that desire to look back, especially when you feel detached from what is supposed to move you, or when that something isn’t strong enough. What results is an emotional contradiction: a yearning for peace and an attraction to the terribly arresting drama of conflict.

Instead of being moved by something, I am caught in the messy ambiguity of that contradiction. I am neither the protagonist nor the antagonist, but simply my own pillar of wasted salt, exploding and settling into a frustrating emotional stagnation.

And so, just like those cursed countertops, I can never tell if my soul is actually clean. In the resounding numbness of the explosion, it’s hard to love yourself when it seems as though your heartstrings are broken, unattached to the thing that’s supposed to move you.

In my resolution, I am haunted by my own imagination — all the questions about myself I wish I could answer. But I can still accept that to be moved means to be unmoved first, rather than desperately trying to find roots in the world or another place to plant what is left of the flowers. I can wait, holding onto them, lacking roots and all, and be moved in time.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the fall semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.