It’s almost moving time again. How many times do you have to repeat an action before it hardens into habit? This will be my fourth springtime move in as many years. And that’s not counting the yearly move out of the dorm for summer break during college…also four years. That means technically eight moves in eight years. Sometimes I worry: Will I ever be able to sit still? Or will the siren call of March and April force me to pack up all my belongings and move on to new places every year for the rest of my life?
Of course I’m half kidding. Still, this nomadic pattern seems to be endemic to the single life. I’m not alone in my yearly moves. I’m not the only single young adult who never gets around to unpacking the few remaining boxes, who never invests in nicer furniture or pieces of bedroom decor that actually go together, because–really–what’s the point? This spot where I happen to pay rent, to sleep at night, to hang my photographs isn’t home. It’s just another space.
Granted, those who have seen my various spaces over the years know that I take pride in a clean living environment, that I even decorate decently well. I like the aesthetics, regardless of how long I’ll be in a place. But no amount of picture-hanging or furniture-arranging can shake the pervading sense of temporariness that surrounds every living situation in this phase.
Some of my young adult friends still refer to their parents’ houses as “home.” I admit, I don’t, mostly because my parents moved to their current house after my freshman year of college, and I never really lived there. (I stayed with them during one summer during college and for six weeks after I graduated, while I waited for a job to materialize.) But regardless of your view of the place where you grew up (or where your family happens to live now), most of us don’t view that as the place where we rest. Vacation spot? Sure. Visiting the folks is always a nice break from the busy schedule, the social scene, work, etc. But by rest I mean “repose,” a place to quiet our restless hearts–a place to remain.
The single young adult doesn’t have a home, in that sense.
And every spring comes the poignant reminder, as I pack my boxes and bribe my friends with pizza and beer to come out for a Saturday and help me cart my belongings to a new spot.
Now I have to admit, I like the excitement of learning a new house, of arranging my belongings in a new room, of developing new habits to fit my new surroundings. Change can be exciting, refreshing, invigorating, all that good stuff. And not being rooted has its advantages, too. It allows for mobility and that most Catholic of Catholic virtues: detachment. Nothing wears away at the soul like misplaced attachments, whether to people, to things, or to places. This nomadic life is also a great reminder of the fact that we’re pilgrims. While we all naturally seek rest, we have to remember that our ultimate rest won’t be on this side of the grave. God made us to keep marching forward.
But (you knew the “but” was coming, didn’t you?) the chronic disengagement of the single person is not natural. We’re made for belonging, even as we have to struggle to maintain a healthy, spiritual detachment. This yearly bouncing from one place to another (or from one job to another; from one city to another; from one social scene to another; from one relationship to another…) is just one of the stronger visible manifestations of the incompleteness of the single life. Yes, you read that right. Even as I defend this phase in life, even as I talk and write about the importance of focusing on the “now” and living this time to the fullest, I have to pause and admit–to myself and to you–that this is not it. That we’re here only as a holding spot before something else. That we can’t get around that fact, but we have to live–and live well–in spite of it, while seeking to learn where God has created us to rest our hearts in this life, while we journey to rest them with him in the next.
For now, if you stumble upon extra boxes that you’re willing to spare, think of me. I need to start thinking about packing, at least.