Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Constant

"This," the Nomad said, waving his arm across the milonga, "is what's been keeping me sane here..  To have something so regular, something you can depend on, is what makes traveling so much more bearable."

Here's what I've learned during my time in the milongas of Buenos Aires:  In the grand not-so-linear equation of your life, many things change.  Friends, family, lovers, enemies, schools, homes, beliefs, favorite foods, and even fashion choices.  Few things, if any, stay the same.  But, in the midst of all this fluctuating line that never really seems to have a terminal point, you can pick out patterns that - for some reason - keep appearing.

Rediscovering an idea from a favorite episode of a favorite tv series, I realize how important it is to have a constant, something to which you can anchor yourself, something around which you can make choices, something from which you can plant yourself and grow wildly.  Without this constant, wandering loses meaning and venturing loses purpose.  Everything that changes around you sweeps you off your feet, and not in the romantic sense.  You land facedown on the ground, and the pain that comes with it isn't only physical.

There's a moment when your life brings a sudden change: whether you're going to a new school, a significant other decides to end a reasonably good relationship, you move to another country, or you decide to buy a different/more eco-friendly bottle of laundry soap.  It's in this moment when memories come flooding back and you realize what made your constant.  It's in this moment when you debate on whether or not the change is worthwhile, and if you're making a terrible mistake in allowing it to happen.

You reminisce about the first dance, toes you stepped on, sweaty shirts at three in the morning, learning Latvian polka, smoker's breaths, wine nights, and life conversations you had.  You remember the one time you met someone, and the hundreds of times you sat with the regulars.  Because, hey, now you're a regular.

Some might ask you why you didn't go here or there while you were in said location, and for a fleeting moment you'll feel like the bottom of a spittoon for not making more of your time.  It's not when you sit down and look through pictures and remember the private jokes and the conversations over Argentine beer that you understand it all.  You did make the most of your time.  Not in the way other people would, but you did.  And it wasn't through going to this famous museum or going to this famous part of the country, but it was through the people you met, the friends you made, the fleeting encounters you experienced.

For me, the constant is a temporary family you build in a moment, whether it's one almost-brother, or a whole collection of locals and travelers.  You might not see them everyday, but when you do, a very large part of you is at peace in a considerably restless place.  The beauty of it all is that for whatever little time you have together, you've come together for that one moment because you needed each other.  For that one moment, you depended on each other to be there, to become each other's constant.  Without that, living would be





And when the time comes - because it always comes - you'll separate.  You'll have gained what you needed from that experience, and as much as you don't want it to, it'll end.  You'll have that one last round until five in the morning, joking about Disney Princesses and why the hell you want to go to Paris instead of Riga.  You'll impersonate Cher, and then talk about zodiac signs, and then you'll slip into British accents in which you debate on how to pronounce "The Avengers."  And finally, you'll talk about when you'll meet again, and even though you say you'll come back, there's a haunting moment when you don't know if it's true.

You never know what happens.

Earlier this year, I would've said that dance was my constant.  It is, after all, one of two major themes in my year abroad.  Now that I'm coming down to the last two and a half months...  I can't be so sure.  Dance has been my 'vehicle' [in the words of the fellowship] that has carried me around to where I need to go.  Interestingly, it's been the people I meet through dance that have kept me sane this whole time.  Sometimes I wonder whether or not the next site will be the same [absorb the culture, learn some of the language, meet people, dance a lot, walk a lot, etc.], and then I have to remind myself that it almost never will be.  It can't.  That's a factoid of life.  You are the thing that changes the most during your lifetime, a product of the equation made of interactions, culture, education, home, experiences, and even food.  You can hardly ever rely on one element to stay the same, and I believe that your constant at one point in time might not be the same constant at another [yes, a paradox if not a self-negating comment on this entire post].

Constants change too.  You can lose them, and you just as easily gain make them.

The only thing I can hope for is that a new constant will be waiting for me wherever I go.  I just have to look for it.

[ The Variable ]

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