Not belonging is a familiar feeling, almost as it crawled into my crib while I was a baby and has stayed with me since. Small town Missouri until I was 17. Then Lippstadt, Germany. Tacoma, Washington. Seattle. Zürich. Never have I lived in a place where I’ve felt truly me, where I felt where my soul could thrive. But I’ve felt it.
I felt my soul come alive when I was 17 visiting Lyon. Passing through Amsterdam throughout the past ten years. Visiting New York just a month ago. It’s as if in a past life I lived in those cities, like my soul was reacquainting itself. So… why do I continue living in a place where I don’t feel I belong? For many years I’ve thought I would. But because of jobs or relationships I didn’t think it was possible.
But at the same time, I think it’s wrong to think a certain place can make me feel whole. I have to recognize the wonderful what I have - the skills I’m learning in my job, my apartment, safety, health. True belonging comes from within.
I’ve lived many years not doing things because I thought I was going to not be living there much longer. Not buying furniture, not making friends, not engaging hobbies. That was a mistake. To feel fully alive, I have to live in the now. Because now is all that matters. Now is all I have.
Not belonging is a perception, not a fact. We have to remain vigilant about the stories we tell ourselves, and whether if they are helping us or hurting us, in the now.
I just started reading Pirkei Avot; a book focused on Jewish ethics. The maxim to “build a fence around the Torah” resonates with me most so far. The Rabbis interpreted this to mean to keep the essence of the laws intact even with modern demands. But to me, “build a fence” means to keep what’s sacred, sacred. To honor and love the Torah is to build a fence around it, to hold it up as extraordinary. And when you protect it, you understand it better. It becomes a part of you, and you learn how to incorporate it into your own life.
But don’t only build a fence around the Torah. Protect all that matters to you. Your passions, peace of mind, and your ability to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Your potential to learn and grow and become a better human being. Don’t let social media or the news or stupid habits or complacency get in the way of your ability to make the most out of your own life. Develop your boundaries. Keep what’s sacred, sacred - build a fence around what matters most.
Six months ago I stopped drinking alcohol. I still remember the moment: I was on a ski trip in the Swiss Alps with a group of my friends and it was well past 5am. They were still up partying while I was in bed, trying to sleep. That week I had just read a book called This Naked Mind about the effects of alcohol, and realized what it was making me into a person I didn’t want to be. Alcohol was not my friend.
To be clear: my life was never out of control with booze - I would have at most two beers every weekday night, and a bit more on the weekends. But it was my brain that was out of control. The quiet, everyday cravings - the wanting. Alcohol seemed to be controlling my mind, to be taking away my ability to concentrate and focus completely on myself and what I wanted to accomplish in life.
After quitting I’ve realized how more patient I’ve become, allowing me to be more open toward learning about myself and others. It opens up new pathways in how to think that I couldn’t quite access through the haze of booze. It allows me more time to feel alive in my own body, to feel physically healthy and fit.
Quitting drinking hasn’t made my life perfect, at all. It sucks to be left out of invites because friends think that I wouldn’t be interested. It’s lame when people don’t feel comfortable with their own drinking so they push a drink in my face. And yes, sometimes I do miss how easy it seems to be to go out, have fun, and be social.
But ultimately - is it worth it? No. I’m not under any delusion that alcohol actually helps me have more fun; and when I came to terms with that - that I can still tell jokes and laugh and dance - I actually had more fun. I’m happier, and more free. The reality of my life is raw, and beautiful, and I’m capturing it all real time.
Quitting alcohol allowed me to think, to evaluate, to understand. It unleashed clarity, where I could scan the contours of this messy brain, dive deep into its inner workings and see how these workings were affecting how I wanted to pursue life. How I wanted my own story to turn out - not the story mixed in with a controlling, harmful substance.
And the story still unfolds…
Several months after my friend Daniel died, I was preoccupied with whether I would also die young. Accidents notwithstanding, I was practically raised on fast food, one of my parent’s smoked, and I was a frequent sunbed goer in my late teens. Do any of these things constitute death? No, but still my mind wondered.
Last December my dear Angelique unexpectedly passed away, and the question arrived again: am I next? But I have to remember who Daniel and Angelique were - they died young yes, but they were so full of life while alive. They lived incredible lives, even in the short time span they were here. And so, it does a disservice to my life to raise this question.
But allow me to just answer it: Matti: you will die young. Perhaps at 32, 40, 60, or even as old as 90. As long as you keep learning, keep growing, keep meeting great people, keep taking care of your health, keep loving your God, keep immersing yourself in life - you will surely die young.
This is a promise I’ll work to keep.
For a long time I’ve held a vision in my head, of my spirit traveling through space. This vision would come to me at the most random of moments: while at the gym, in the shower, or just before bed. ‘What does this mean?’ I used to wonder. I don’t yet know, exactly, but I do know that I’ve traveled far in my life; further than I could have ever imagined.
Who was I? That 14 year old Missourian gay kid planning to move to LA as soon as he turned 18. That 18 year old who so desperately wanted to move to NYC, but instead ended up moving to Tacoma, Washington. That 26 year old who moved to Amsterdam and met his best friend. That 28 year old who moved to Zürich. But this is more than just changing cities. To be in transit is more about a mindset, like Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.”
When I read journals I wrote when I was 16, 17 - I barely recognize myself. Like many at that age I was stupid and naive. But I was also incredibly brave. I willed myself out of bad situations, bad circumstances. I knew that there was always something greater than a minimum wage job at the Tacoma Mall. I knew there was a light down the tunnel somewhere.
So, this vision I have. I’m not quite sure what it is but it comes to me, of me traversing through space. Through darkness and sometimes through light. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t exactly know what I am doing, where I’m going. But I do know that as long as I keep going, I will be all right.