It is harder to come back than to leave.
The great unknown offers no possibility to disappoint, whereas the familiar, the known, always seems to have its peak in the past. Perhaps I am a product of my generation, which has grown up witnessing the crumbling ideals of the world our parents existed in. We millennials have no shortage of skepticism, and a consequential shortage of bounding, careless hope. Ours is more calculated.
Hope is what keeps our hearts beating. Hope for happiness, hope for love, hope for a better future. But when returning to a place you’ve left, it is difficult to hope for a better future. It feels as though you are stepping into a life you have long outgrown, like shoes you wore as a child that are now painfully small. Yesterday I returned to Melbourne after being away for three months. Three months of learning who I am, who my people are and what kind of life I want to lead. I am always surprised at time’s ability to speed up and slow down at its own will. In this case, time stretched itself out like a languorous cat in the sunshine, not wanting to move for utter enjoyment. Here, time and I were on the same page.
I spent three weeks volunteering at Woodford Folk Festival, and felt like I’d come home to my brothers and sisters. Afterwards, I spent every day at the beach ambling along the shoreline looking for shells, playing my ukulele, reading books and getting to know my new-but-already-old friends. In the past I have had foreign friends comment on the talent for an easy-going lifestyle we Australians have. And when life’s a beach, I couldn’t think of anything better than lizarding in the sunshine and smiling up to the Milky Way.
But as duty’s servant, I made my way down the east coast until, at last, I reached the city. As I walked the streets of the inner-city, I understood what Allen Ginsberg had seen when he wrote Howl. It seems that when large numbers – millions – of people are made to live in each others personal space, the singular beauty we all have gets lost within the self-absorbed, vice-loving, debased entity we collectively become. I see the city as a physical manifestation of humanity’s desire for more, better, best. We must earn what we have, and unimpeded fulfillment of one’s desires is sure to have consequences. Consequences the earth can feel, consequences I can see in the streets of the city. Pollution. Homelessness. Dehumanisation. A loss of the instinctual connections we once had with the natural world. Misguided desire. An ache for fulfillment.
But when I stop seeing the city as one conglomeration of nameless strangers, and start seeing it as an intersection of millions of individuals with faces, names, stories, wisdom, laughter, love, habits, talents, fears and dreams, I can see the beauty again. And when I look past the eternal traffic, towering buildings and smog in the sky, I can see the amazing creations of such people. The art, music, singing, speaking, listening, creating, sharing, learning, the writing, watching, smiling, the whole spectrum of emotions of those from all walks of life, the playing and enjoying and making – the city is all of this.
I have returned to this bustling metropolis from the solitude of nature. As I always strive to do, I will appreciate what life gives me. Melbourne, you city throbbing with life, I am yours.