Three and a half years in this flat. The longest I’ve lived at any one place since leaving home at eighteen. I’ve grown used to the way the rickety sash windows rattle in the faintest of wind and the ashy smell of the neighbour’s fireplace as it travels through these old vents.
Ten years on this Great island. Long enough to become British. Not just in nationality or legal status, but in thought, speech, spirit, even in physicality, in the way I move through the world, my reflexes. Like I was given some strange nylon to wear upon arrival and it’s been on me so long it just feels like my skin. What was once so unfamiliar now lives in my cells.
There’s so much to say about belonging to two places. About loving people on two different sides of an ocean. A blessing. A curse. A privilege. A bipartite state of being. No words convey the duality of this evolution. Where the person I was back then over there and the person I am now here are somehow exactly the same and yet entirely different.
This place is in me now. Of me. I am it and it is me. It can never leave me. It can never cast me off. Nor can I shed it. No matter where I go or how far I am from it, it’s the nylon I can never take off. Never want to take off. It goes with me. There is no distance. Where I am it is.
Why do we always ask people what they do? What’s their job? Are they married? Do they have kids? A house? Where’d they go to school? Do they make good money? We want answers to these questions first in order to form an opinion of who we think they are, if they’re being successful in life and if they’re worthy of our time and attention. But how could someone’s material circumstances, their resume, trophy case or photo album every really tell us who they are and what they’re worth? Somewhere down the line we stopped asking the questions that matter.
Why aren’t we asking instead what keeps them up at night? How do they want to be remembered? What makes them weep and what’s their biggest fear? What books changed their life? What’s the biggest sacrifice they ever made for someone? Are they as scared of regret as you are? Do they come alive at the thought of making art or feel God when they’re alone on a quiet street? Have they ever saved someone’s life, and if so, how did it feel?
Instead of asking someone’s occupational status, why don’t we ask them the status of their heart. The content of their soul. Look into their eyes and ask what they hope for more than anything else in the world. What they live for. What they’d die for. And why.
But asking the right questions requires bravery. Requires us to suspend judgement. Requires us to be vulnerable. To face our own truths as we ask them of theirs. But it’s what we’re here for; the breaking down of walls, the excavation of our humanity, the unlearning. In order to see the value in another’s truths, we must first see the value in our own. We must first be brave. Let’s be brave.
I used to wish I was a morning person. To awaken with a fury, ready to own the day, moving at pace towards all of its untainted possibilities. But now, I don’t resist my natural affinity for the night. Perhaps it’s a predetermined state of being. As programmed into us as our DNA. We can try to fight it, but it seems to be that we’re either moved more by the purity and hopefulness of a new dawn or we’re drawn to the mystery and intrigue of night. Not yet tomorrow though no longer today, when all goes dark and quiet, danger feels closer, a sense of urgency awakens the mind, and a sunset brings our imagination to life more than a sunrise ever could.