I have landed in New York before. For the past six months, I have always moved forward, never touching land I'd touched before. I doubled back to Kota Kinabalu for a regional flight, once. There are a lot of things the Watson is about outside of the themes of your project, but easy familiarity is not one of them. Familiarity with the unfamiliar, perhaps, or the quick cultivation of familiarity. This is one of the reasons I decided to return home for my grandfather's funeral: this alien experience is not about going home, and it is not about place, but instead the people that place brings together. I didn't want material familiarity, I just wanted to hug my sister.
There is nothing familiar to me about this New York. My grandfather isn't there. New York is always and never the same; that's the nature of the city. This is one of the reasons he loved it. I don't call it home, really, and don't need to. I do need to be with my family while we process what we are, again. In Fiji there are 100 days of mourning with food and family. The irony of leaving is that I felt closer to the Fijian folks I consulted about going back; they all said family comes first.
The undeniability of place is so much of what I think about – the ways that people feel connected to the globe by working immediately, most often through global climate change. Being with my family in New York now brings a bearing to this sadness, lends it direction, gives me a chance to help shape the future of this family. I do not want to be away in that imagining – I'd rather be like my grandfather, quiet, kind, and invested.
I'll be in New York, with access to all sorts of things I've tried not to think about for six months. Can we acknowledge that six months is a long time? That I don't want these things yet? The easy decision was to stay in Fiji. If the Watson is about throwing yourself into the world, into experiencing deeply, this raw moment isn't contrary to the goals of the Watson.
The privilege of travel was never more clear than while I was waiting for the flight to Los Angeles, where for a too-brief moment my mom would rub my back in the cool sunlight when I snuck out during my layover. I was flying home from Fiji short notice for a funeral after several months in communities doing climate change resiliency work along the coast. Those who, like me, can fly 10000 miles on a moments notice are disproportionately impacting, for no fucking good reason, really, the people on these islands who don't necessarily have the resources to leave. That is why, particularly in the work I do, I have some self loathing and judgment. All the same, going back to NY was exactly the right thing to do.
And then I was in my high school home for the last time before it gets sold. I was sitting in my sun-bright kitchen, where I wrote all my college applications and made pancakes for my friends. I went to dinner with my dad and my sister, trudged through a blizzard, wrote a eulogy. As I followed my father's high school friends, so gentle and smart, while they pushed the casket out from the service I saw my best friends from high school in the back row. This year has been objectively challenging, and my friends have really showed up for me. When I say that something growls my mutual commitment in my chest.
People kept asking me what I wanted to do, and I didn't want any of it. But while I was home I opened myself to love, sadness, and the deep, undeniable privilege of being American. I will never complain about how lucky I am to be loved.