Would Living Somewhere You Loved Make You Hate Yourself Less?
Do you love where you live?
Do you live where you love?
Exploring rainforests, farms and craters on Hawaii's Big Island last week, traversing its dazzling, dreamlike backcountry via KapohoKine Adventures, I asked nearly everyone I met: What's it like to live here? Because it's not the sort of place where one tends to wind up by accident. Volcano-crowned, striped with moonscapish jet-black lava swaths, emerald pastures and ginger-scented jungle sweeping toward coral-floored crystalline depths alive with humpback whales, sea turtles, manta rays and tiger sharks, it's as romantically as it is devastatingly remote. Anticipating hurricanes, tsunamis and hot magma requires courage, hard labor and faith.
As transplants and oldtimers spoke, I saw how intimately our identities, our relationships with ourselves, connect with our surroundings. Each locality has its own personality, comprising climate, culture, demographics, politics, urbanity and so much more. What fulfils some folks drains others in the exact same place, whether they realize this—while being drained/fulfilled—or not.
If you feel persistently freakish, ugly, stupid, sad, useless, hopeless and/or excluded, maybe it's not you. Depending on your sensitivities, maybe it's your city, your subdivision, your nation, your street.
Maybe you think you hate yourself only because you're a fish out of water, struggling desperately, day by day, through no fault of your own, simply to breathe. Maybe, elsewhere, you'd feel bright, beautiful, inspired.
Here are three ways to assess how your relationship with where you live affects your relationship with who you are.
Why do you live there? Work, school, love or family brought most of us where we are and keeps us here. Passion for the place itself figures into it far too infrequently. I met an ex-Arizonan who moved to the Big Island sight unseen because Google Earth revealed ferny, waterfall-fed canyons he yearned to descend. I met a Honolulu native who had fled her hometown—yearning, she explained, to "keep feeling Hawaiian" under not skyscrapers but the unobstructed starlight she had cherished as a child.
Living where you live, can you be your most authentic self? I know I can't, because it's too urban here, too inland and too humorless—but it took me years to realize this, years I spent striving miserably to fit in. Life in Hawaii made many of the people I met feel fully alive, its landscapes and lifestyles fueling their souls. A craftsman radiated sheer delight as he stroked the satiny-smooth furniture he'd made from local koa wood. A Big Island-born surfboard-shaper glowingly described raising two kids off the grid.
When you imagine living where you now live for the rest of your life, what happens? Slicing just-plucked papayas in a deep valley where wild ponies wade palm-fringed rivers rolling sunlit to the sea, a man told me he'd been born within this square half-mile "and hope to die here too." This concept, and how true it clearly was for him, cut me right to the core.
This essay isn't meant to make you hate your home or risk your life by fleeing it tonight, but rather to suggest that some of us might reassign some of our animus from ourselves onto our surroundings—which is still uncomfortable, but more survivable. And, knowing what we now know, maybe we can access joy and meaning even in, from or through our unwelcoming locales. It's hard, but I will try.
And someday, given enough luck and will, may we all be where we belong.