Here I am, riding on the train back to school from my parents’ home. I realize I spend an awful lot of time in transit. One city to the other, one building to the other, one class to the other. From the room to the laundry room back up the stairs again. I walk. Often. To the gym to my favorite restaurant sometimes to the library. I have my driver’s license now, and so when I am home I drive. To the store to the house to the masjid and back.
How funny this moment in time is, a society of many movers and few builders? We shift and plan and compete and are always seeking the Next Big Thing. We arrive and thrive through movement: Migrants and tourists and people chasing job after job. And we punish and present pain through movement: deportations and exile and Trail of Tears. We have mastered the art of transit, know the most efficient ways to travel the world and travel the sea and we do it all the time. This university breathes a culture that worships the Next Big Thing. You find it and you chase it only to find there is a bigger mountain in front and you are compelled to climb. And climb. And climb. And when you arrive at the peak, whatever that is, leave nothing behind but your name in a rock or a footprint or a flag on the dust (on the Moon).
People walk around campus with their headphones on. I do too. We listen to music or a podcast or talk on the phone because transit requires not much thought but just energy and this is how we have the energy to keep moving and pushing and chasing and applying and interviewing for the Next Big Thing. We practice sacrifice, first smiles as we pass each other, then the sound of the city as we turn the corner, then everything else necessary. We believe Loneliness and Triumph to be sisters.
I should like to travel. I should like to see new places and meet new people and see new places and take pictures and see new places and eat new food and see new places and then leave them. But I also would like a home. And a community. I would like to know my neighbors and know the aunties at the masjid who make the place magical for Fajr and walk my children to school and know that we are safe there. I would like to be still, and be present, and be purposeful.
I should like to stay in one place long enough to construct something beautiful. I should like to pick up what is left from those who have bulldozed through the places I choose as home and make something spectacular. Simple things can be breathtaking. Soulful things are the most dazzling. Communal things are the most lasting.
We, human beings, are built to want to build. Build things that last and things that stay. That is why we have old buildings and old cathedrals and old pyramids and we marvel and yet we grin with pride. That is why coming home to my parents’ home is called “Coming home”. That is why I am relieved to see the old places I know and hear about the community that we grew into and remember that although things have changed they have not fallen apart. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for those who built the places I love.
We are just making it through this crazy world. No one has hacked life yet. We are all wandering and stumbling our ways along and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars and years and years and years and we give our health and our happiness and forget about love all to try and make sure no one else discovers how lost we are.
And I want to be okay with wandering and lost-ness and the need to have to stay awhile. I want to be content and I want to construct and I want to pick up ashes of and pick up the skeletons of old buildings & old Masjids. I will sculpt something funny-looking but wonderful and nurse it back to beauty. You can always make something out of leftovers. A seed is just degree from a tree until it isn’t. Until it is remembered as a seed as a beginning as a standing ovation to life and to what is ahead.
I should like to plant a tree or two. Speckle the earth with trees and constructs of mine made out of things I love and things other people did not have the patience to. I will call them home and have them belong to me and the people I love, and have the people around me become people I love and I want them to know me as Present. Someone who stayed longer than the time it took for her to find another mountain to climb or another epoch to cross or another well-paying job just with a higher paycheck and less fulfillment.
I should like to travel. But I shall always need to come Home. Building a good, gracious, God-fearing, vibrant, resilient, powerful, dynamic, laughterful and prayerful community. THAT is the Next Big Thing.