I left my job and moved out of my apartment, partially to destabilize my life, and become more flexible. But I didn’t quite realize how I had compensated for stability in other ways, until I was on my own in California last weekend.
On Saturday night, I was in a motel room in Fairfield, CA, freaking out to the point of not being able to sleep, and looking out the window every few minutes. It was then that I realized for the first time how much security I derived from the two constants in my new life: Nikki and the Ryomobile. I feel safer with Nikki than I did alone, both for pragmatic reasons and purely psycho-social reasons. As for the Ryomobile, I had taken measures to make it more dependable, without even thinking much of it. I’d gotten the premium warranty extension, new tires, a premium AAA account, all in addition to plain old insurance. I did everything possible to ensure that the Ryomobile would be something I could rely on, and indeed, I had come to depend on it tremendously without even realizing it. Until, of course, I was alone in Fairfield, California with a rental.
To a large extent, my anxiousness was irrational. I had liability insurance, and I’d gotten loss and damage insurance through a 3rd party. But the thought of dealing with a damaged rental in the middle of nowhere all by myself, and having to deal with a separate insurance company in addition to the rental company, was more than I could take. I doubt I would’ve been as anxious if Nikki had been with me, or I was closer to my friends, or wasn’t going somewhere with no cell reception. I also would’ve been fine if I’d gotten LDW coverage from the rental company, or had my trusty Ryomobile with me. But that night in that motel room, I learned how I, as much as anyone else, need stability, and exactly what my sense of stability depended on.
On friends and family
Since we left the Bay Area in mid-April, Nikki and I have been drawing a tremendous level of support from our friends and family. So much so, that I feel like I have a completely different view on relationships than I used to, when I lead a more insular and independent life. This was really hammered home last weekend as well, when a series of small but potentially annoying problems were resolved thanks to the help of a few friends. Harold had been collecting my mail, but since he would be out of town, he handed it all off to Josh. Josh also gave me a ride from SFO to SJC, then offered me his couch my last night in the area. When I was driving down 101 with Nikki’s bike in the back of the car with no idea where to store it for the summer, I called Jesse and he graciously offered some space outside his house. Prior to that, Nikki and I crashed at Moomers without paying rent. Nikki’s parents are letting me park the Ryomobile in their drive way while I’m away. I can’t imagine how difficult our life would be if it weren’t for all these small but significant favors.
A part of me feels like I ought to be ashamed for relying so heavily on my friends and family. And indeed, I should do my best not to become a burden to them. But then, I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of, to ask for favors and be indebted to people. It’s what relationships are for. We live in an intricate web of relationships precisely because none of us can live alone. We all depend on each other, and we all need to help each other. Some times I can help others, and sometimes I need others’ help. Indeed, I feel much closer to my friends and family because my life is more intertwined with theirs, and because I feel grateful and indebted to them. I will do more for them in the future, because of what they’ve done for me.
When I learned about gift giving rituals in a social anthropology class a while ago, I didn’t get it. It seemed like yet another pointless ritual. But now I get it. If you want a society with strong inter-personal ties, you don’t want people to be independent and isolated; you want people to depend on, and be indebted to, each other. Sometimes it feels like modern American society places a little too much emphasis on independence, and we’ve forgotten that the reason why we live in herds is because life’s easier when we help each other. Especially in these hard times, I suspect that’s a lesson we could stand to remember.