The Loneliness of Immigration (Part 2 of 2)
Who are you when you’re alone with your thoughts?
What do you say in secret, when no one is watching?
What do you fear? What do you long for?
What do you regret in the life you have left to live?
Immigration begins in the mind. When you feel out of place where you are, or when you’ve begun the process of travel — documents, applications, goodbyes — you start your journey.
The plane, ship or car is only the middle. The beginning was a long time ago. The end too. For who you were before you left stays when you leave. All the memories — that’s what they become, memories — all frozen in your mind.
This may happen without warning. You may catch yourself months later, sobbing on the phone for a conversation you never had. Or you may sigh in relief as you drive in traffic, comparing unconsciously the old to the new.
Immigration never leaves the immigrant. You never finish immigrating. You’re never fully here; you never fully left.
Of all the contrast, of all the new life and contract to adjust and adapt, the wind that hits hardest, the one whose strength must be harnessed is that of loneliness: where no one fully understands your tongue or your song. Where repetition of a name you thought you knew rings alien. Where you start to doubt if you should have come. The loneliness that pervades in every crowd you try to get lost into.
This same loneliness, this same pain — this isolation — what if I told you this was your power?
Who Are You When You’re Alone With Your Thoughts?
We limit ourselves. We choose where to draw the line, how hard to work and what matters to us. I know this now because each time I look at my previous YouTube videos, I’m transported to a time of pain and struggle. I time of fighting my nature. A time when because I did not know what it felt like to ask for help, I fought it — I fought the person who wanted me to simply look up to her and say:
Please, help me. I don’t know what to do.
When I was alone with my thoughts, my biggest fear was of dying and never achieving my potential. My whole existence revolved around being a better storyteller, writer, and creator. All I dreamed of was one day making a living with my writing and never having to work a regular job.
I want to scoff at this memory, but I can’t. It’s mine.
I was that guy.
It’s easy to say “I’ve changed” or “I’m no longer who I was”. Even my therapist expressed how surprised he was at my transformation. I was too…until I started explaining what had happened.
And it is a lot.
But where I can see most clearly lies in what I think about now when I’m alone and, surprisingly, what I now fear the most.
My biggest fear is not being a good person. And goodness is very close to what Marcus Aurelius would have said is our role as humans: to be good to each other, to care and to do as the logos would instruct, with reverence not fear.
My fear is that I would not be useful to others. My fear is that I am not doing the best I can.
I cannot tell you exactly how this changed. Like most conclusions from personal experiences, a lot of events led to this. Many of them painful, most joyful. I am happier than I have ever been, yet, I work harder than I did in the past.
I have a 40-hour week full-time job, I publish weekly on YouTube, I am also the designated housekeeper (mostly because I have realized I can be quite the germophobe and I just like clean dishes and floors).
Where I once had the selfish fear of doing only what I thought was my utmost mission on earth — achieving my potential — I now look at my wife and just want to be there for her whenever and however she needs me.
I look at my friends with compassion, with fewer rash conclusions. I assume, immediately, that they’re going through a hard time and need me to be compassionate.
I don’t succeed all the time. And no, I don’t wish I did. I understand my limitations. I also understand that all I need to do is to keep doing good.
There’s nothing to measure. Only to do.
But how did I get here? How did lonliness play into this?
What Do You Say in Secret When No One is Watching?
The most painful lies are the ones we tell ourselves. The ones we force ourselves to believe. I once believed I couldn’t work a regular job. I once believed I didn’t need to start from scratch and that I could create the world I wanted with the sheer force of will.
I still believe this. However, when I took a step-back to factor in two things, my eyes suddenly saw better.
There’s enough time to do the things we want in this life — but only if we take the time they deserve. As powerful as the human capacity to grow is, we can’t talk and listen at the same time (effectively, at least).
When I took the time to stop the fear that clung to my heart — of how I was going to waste my life, and how everyone was going to say I had moved to the US and hadn’t published a book up until now, I realized that I had enough time to do it all, but I would never enjoy it the way I wanted if I didn’t define when I wanted these things and how.
I’d rather read stories to my future children on my computer ( or make them up as I go) than punish myself and my wife to build a creative career on a shaky foundation.
We all have the same 24 hours. When the goal we pursue takes longer, we tend to slow down and be more careful about where to put our energy. The first step is to realize what we can do, and choose, among all, what we want to do.
I want to make money. I want to build a life where I can care for the people that matter to me without having to repeat the childhood I had because of the country I lived in. I now live with someone who is counting on me.
There’s something profound about having that kind of trust and relationship. It’s this bond that drives me to pause — consider options I may not initially be in agreement with — and ask myself a game-changing question:
What would I benefit from taking action on your opinion?
I fought my wife’s suggestions for weeks on end. I was so stubborn about how I wanted to adapt in the US that I refused, with ardor, to anything she said that remotely involved changing my mind.
360 degrees later, I find so much more love and joy in looking first at what I can gain from listening to her.
Others include my family, friends, and everyone I come in contact with.
At work, I remember to be present. Today, I was so proud of myself when I was able to help this lady on the phone realize that her order was going to arrive a week earlier than what she’d thought.
Where my secret conversations revolved around me, my ideas and my dreams, they haven’t changed much. The angle they direct towards has — others.
My potential and my gifts are for others. The money I would earn from using those gifts is because I created value that others expressed financial gratitude for.
And what happens when they don’t care about my gifts? What happens when after I do all this, adapt to the new world, become the best human I can be and my time is over?
What Do You Regret In the Life You Have Left To Live?
I’ve taken almost a month to read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. There’s something about this emperor’s thoughts that has seeped into my life, almost like a thin insulator. Where I saw America as this land ready to pounce on me — which in many cases, is — I see a vast sea of people who are yet to experience someone like me.
At work, for example, I always try to say hello to everyone in the hallway. Today, however, I noticed the same person twice who — consciously or not — refused to acknowledge my existence.
Where I would have been sad and shocked, I was fascinated ( and shocked).
“How”, I wondered, “Does such incivility persist”?
Before I could get a chance to settle on an answer, another hallway passenger beamed and responded to my greeting.
Marcus’s book really boils down to a few core themes expressed over and over. One of them is how much our goodness isn’t dependent on others and our duty to be good is not a burden but our nature. That anything we do that turns us from being good, and being useful to other humans, is against our nature.
This, till death — which is part of the process — we must accept as our nature too.
My fear of not being a good husband is more aptly defined as the joy of being able, each day, to be a better one.
I talk more about how I’m feeling with my wife. I humor her where I used to be a wall. I let her be herself and my biggest goal is to be so present that she can always rely on me whenever she chooses to.
We are partners and I learn from her to improve my own life, and simply be a better human.
It seems, to me, that where being lonely and far from home made me doubt who I was and what I wanted to be, the reverse is now true.
As I go deeper inside myself to wonder where my thoughts lie, which words from books resonate with me and how conversations make me feel, I discover that I had capped my limit. I had told myself lies and secrets that I wanted so badly to believe I fought the very people who wanted me to succeed.
I know this is only the beginning. Yet, if this were the end, I’d be pleased as well.