brooklyn the book in the city

“Brooklyn” and the Solo Journey

I picked up Brooklyn by Colm Toibin at the airport on my way to Brooklyn, New York. I love the idea of reading a book named for the place I was visiting; it seems like the right mix of romanic and dorky.

In Toibis’ book, the main character leaves Ireland for the United States on a quest to discover who she is, what she is worth and where she belongs. It’s a traditional maturation story about a quest we all take in our lives. Maybe we embark on the defining journey that will see us become individuals onto ourselves and not just children of our parents. Or it’s a little journey, one that changes the angle at which we see the world by a few degrees. The idea that there is only one, life changing journey in life seems, to me, inaccurate.

the bravery of migration

And while I’m on the topic of the journey, the act of migrating has been more present in my life currently. In the fall, I rode with Sryian refugees in packed trains through the south of Germany. For the past few months, I have argued with conservatives about 21st century immigrants to the United States in the face of racist comments by a lead Republican presidential candidate. I have met non-Americans in my travels who think of America as a promise land, filled with the wealthy and the lucky. Unlike I have ever seen before, I have seen people in motion, and it hits me as a form of bravery I never fully appreciated before.

Straying from that which we are familiar for an unknown promise has to be the bravest thing humanity has ever known. And we each experience this to some degree everyday; trying a new restaurant or saying hello to a stranger stems from the same human drive as Amelia Earhart flying solo across the Atlantic or that of an Irish immigrant, boarding a boat by herself, destined for Brooklyn.

“they would never know her now”

With high hopes for the future, the main character of Brooklyn, Eilis, says goodbye to her family and to everything that she’s known, not knowing if she will ever see any of it again. Before she goes, she experiences anxiety and apprehension, but for the sake of her mother and sister, she pretends to have nothing but easy confidence about the steps she is taking.

How often have I put on that same face?

Once in Brooklyn, she suffers the gnawing depth of homesickness, made worse by the first batch of letters from home. But Eilis decides to not tell her family about her sadness. She cannot really explain what or how she is feeling, and even if she could explain, she doesn’t want her family to worry. Deciding this, she knows it will create a disconnect that will be impossible to bridge: “They would not find out about this; she would not put it into a letter. And because of this, she understands that they would never know her now.”

These words from Toibin’s book brushed up against me with the light touch of a semi truck.

How often have I made this same decision?

sharing the struggle

I am on this solo journey, and no one is by my side to witness me or witness that journey. No one knows the little tortures and triumphs that I experience everyday, the tortures made worse by bearing them alone and the triumphs unexplainable, having not shared the torture.

As I contemplate this, I consider that my unwillingness to share “the bad stuff” is a struggle of my generation. Everyday we log into a personal hell, trying to impress the Internet and measure ourselves against those who also promote blessings and comic mishaps, silently swallowing their sadness and disappointment.

And with this, no one is really known anymore.

But no one has ever really been known before; I can’t blame social media. We all have our secrets, all have the failures and triumphs that we internalize for better or worse. The best we can do is be kind to ourselves. We must commend ourselves for the bravery each journey we’ve taken in our life has demanded. And we must try to share ourselves with those that happen to travel with us.

Something to Add?