As a child, I felt like I knew many things for certain. I was Indian — Malayalee, to be exact. I was brought up in Kuwait and Dubai, both quite dry, torrid places. I had a best friend and was generally well liked. I did pretty well in school, so I must’ve been decently smart as well. I believed these bits, all taken together, created me for who I truly was. Everything was good, and I was just fine.

A few years into my teenage years, I somehow found myself with a lot more down time. Imposed with this space and time, I often spent time by myself in my dim, silent room and I — diligently, perhaps to a fault — let my mind wander. I thought about myself, my existence and the things we think to ourselves when we can’t sleep. Most nights, it felt refreshing, almost enlightening. However, at some point I had a specific recursive thought enter my mind. An itch far below skin and bone. This time, I left that room uncertain.

I was Indian, certainly, but I had not grown up in my motherland. All my years were split somewhat evenly between Kuwait and Dubai. Yet, citizenship was never awarded to immigrants, as per the law of those rather arid lands. I was caught between two homes; one I had never lived in and one that was never truly mine. My circle of friends never failed to change, my best friends always seemed to move away and my grades were never as high or consistent as they used to be. All that was me had changed. The ground was trembling and I was about to fall.

Many years were spent trying to find my footing. I tried looking for something solid, but nothing seemed reliably stable, everything always changed. The journey seemed a little futile and a lot more disheartening and tiresome and arduous. It really did feel pointless, but, during yet another night in the same room, I asked myself if that was really true. I reasoned to myself that whatever I was looking for was somewhat antithetical. When things changed, I felt like I lost control, but this was simply because I had given away this power. I had let the uncontrollable define me. Indeed, a little detachment was due.

With this newfound wisdom, the daze slightly faded. However, I still wanted to find out the extrinsic that held meaningful weight. I searched for things that were relatively time invariant, things that were true and would continue to be. I could only find one thing, and that was my family. People will come and go, the ground will quiver, but my family will always love me, and I can’t help but feel unbearably blessed.

After all this, I felt like I had to do something. I had to make changes in my life, otherwise this would all be for naught. So, I attempted and succeeded in stripping all that was insignificant. One of the most powerful decisions I made was to cut many people out of my life. I’ve lost a lot of relationships and damaged many more. Sometimes, I wonder whether this was the right thing to do or whether I went about it the right way. Most nights, I sleep thinking that it was right, but then again, other kinds of nights exist, too.

Somewhat serendipitously, I came across a certain piece by Peter Wessel Zappfe, a 20th-century philosopher born in Tromsø, Norway. In his 1933 essay, “Den Sidste Messias(The Last Messiah), Zappfe talks about the paradox of the human condition and the panic that ensues. One of his remedies for this panic is called anchoring. “The mechanism of anchoring also serves from early childhood; parents, home, the street become matters of course to the child and give it a sense of assurance,” he notes. According to Zappfe, flaws in the one’s ability to properly address the human condition resulting from discovering that one’s anchoring mechanism was false provoked a sense of despair. This sounded somewhat familiar.

One of Zappfe’s points I found particularly intriguing: “When a human being has eliminated those of his anchorings that are visible to himself, only the unconscious ones staying put, then he will call himself a liberated personality.” I can understand this as a goal, but as long as you have tethers on this earth, it seems unfathomable. This is interesting to ponder over; would it really be possible to attain this state in a somewhat practical fashion? And if so, would it be worth it? This leaves me uncertain and curious and inexplicably excited.

Frankly, there’s still a bit of me that is a little timid, slightly anxious over what will inevitably arrive. Worried over the uncontrollable and my unpreparedness. But many have lived with the same fear before me, and many more will do so much after I have lived — I suppose there’s some comfort to be had in that. Alas, the unscratchable itch persists, and I’ll just have to learn to live with it.

Bharat Nair can be reached at bnair@umich.edu. 

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