What are the things you typically do when you move to a new city? Explore the neighborhood, meet up with those you know in town, and make daily trips to Target for all the things you forgot. Add on a new job too, and it’s probably setting up your desk, getting to know your coworkers, and figuring out what exactly is expected of you.
But in the time of corona, all that is out the window. What does Day 1 look like in this new world?
In a few weeks, Ari and I will achieve our goal of moving to the Boston area when we pack our cars and drive to our new home in Cambridge. Though we weren’t sure when in our lives we’d get there, we’ve known for a long time that it’s where we want to put down roots. It’s close to family and has a large enough Jewish community to support us both personally and professionally. When we decided last year that Summer 2020 would be the right time to move, we obviously didn’t consider the possibility that it would end up being a few months into a pandemic.
In some ways, it feels almost pointless to move now. When we get there, we won’t be able to see our local family and friends or host a housewarming party. We won’t be able to try out the neighborhood restaurants and yoga studios. We won’t be able to go to our new jobs in person. We might as well stay here. (Or, we might as well have already moved, since so much of our current jobs is done from home now anyway.) What does location matter when we only “go” places online?
(At the same time, I am grateful to have kept my current job and secured a new one in this climate, as well as to have the resources to enable this move.)
As I was pondering this, I went in search of wisdom to a favorite book of mine: Consolations, by poet David Whyte. This is a collection of reflections on everyday words, and one entry struck me as particularly relevant. Here’s what Whyte says of the word ground:
Ground is what lies beneath our feet. It is the place where we already stand; a state of recognition, the place or the circumstances to which we belong whether we wish to or not. It is what holds and supports us, but also what we do not want to be true; it is what challenges us, physically or psychologically, irrespective of our hoped for needs. It is the living, underlying foundation that tells us what we are, where we are, what season we are in and what, no matter what we wish in the abstract, is about to happen in our body, in the world or in the conversation between the two.
To come to ground is to find a home in circumstances and in the very physical body we inhabit in the midst of those circumstances and above all to face the truth, no matter how difficult that truth may be; to come to ground is to begin the courageous conversation, to step into difficulty and by taking that first step, to begin the movement through all difficulties, to find the support and foundation that has been beneath our feed all along: a place to step onto, a place on which to start and a place from which to step.David Whyte, Consolations pp. 93-94
I think seeking “groundedness” is an apt aim, for me personally and for our times. When so much feels unstable, we all need ways to say, “Here I am, here I stand, and from here I step forward.” But, the reality is, and as Whyte implies, this instability is the ground on which we stand––confronting us with the truths of our bodies and spirits.
Ground is both literal and metaphorical. So moving from one literal ground to another will, undoubtedly, affect the metaphorical ground. Physical location does matter, even when most places we “go” are online.
As they say in Hebrew: “משנה מקום, משנה מזל. M’shaneh makom, m’shaneh mazal. Change your spot, change your luck.”
(Not that I’ve had bad luck where I am now. The opposite is in fact true. But, change is change.)
I don’t know how long it will take to feel grounded after we move, without being able to follow the familiar script of relocation. Whyte says the ground doesn’t care about my hoped for needs anyway. In this world that requires new scripts, maybe all I can do (all we can do) is look beneath my feet on Day 1, see where I’m standing, and step forward from there.