Those of us who live in the Floridian diaspora talk about Florida all the time to each other. As in: All. The. Damn. Time. And we do this because we hate our home state as much as we love it. And we really hate it therefore we also really love it. If you are a true Floridian, not a transplant, but someone whose grandparents’ grandparents somehow managed to survive the heat and mosquitoes long enough to give birth to a lineage of disgruntled Floridians, then your right to complain and praise the state are increased 100 fold compared to those folks whose parents moved there to take advantage of the lack of state income taxes.
Besides for complaining about evil developers, who are profit-driven monsters bent on destroying everything that makes Florida Florida, we in the diaspora not only keep tabs on each other but also share our fears of the inevitable: returning to Florida. And now my cohorts and I have reached an age where returning home is pretty common since the Floridians we’re fond of who kept their residency are beginning to creep closer towards those pearly gates. I am of no exception and have known for a long time that I was not sprung from an immortal family. And yet, the idea of returning fills me with a type of dread. Why? It is just a place, a hot place yes, a hot place with too many potholes and people who like shotguns and alligator boots, of course. But still, just a geographic location.
So what am I afraid of?
There is the general fear that I think everyone shares about their homeland, that returning to a place will force you to return to the person you were when you were there last. It can happen, especially when you are younger, because you go into a situation where people have preconceived notions of your persona, based on their last encounter with you. And they do project those old ideas onto you but you can counter that with the truth of who you have become and are becoming.
I have a more specific fear. I am afraid of change. Oh, but we all are, you say? Yes, that is true, but I am afraid of specific changes that I have been avoiding for a while. I have learned to tolerate so much that I confuse happiness with having to put up with less nonsense.
I am, in a word, a coward.
And yet, with two people I know and love facing rough seas ahead, I have been considering undermining my cowardly ways. First, as always, I conducted some informal research and asked several friends what they would do in my situation, given the pending circumstances. Well, they all said, everyone dies someday. And I thanked them for their input while feeling rather unsettled to be friends with a bunch of nihilists.
Yes, everyone dies, I am not an idiot. The thing is, I am not talking about death, I am talking about being near the people I love while they are still alive. About acknowledging my avoidance of confrontation and how it has led to me being in a situation where I am nowhere near these people, physically or otherwise. And when I say love, I mean, a pure love, untainted by my neurotic brain. These two people fill me with joy when I think of them, a warm, honeyed feeling that is intoxicating. I love both of them unconditionally and really would move anywhere, even Florida, to be near them.
Practically speaking, there are a few demerits to the idea. But I was walking around under the moonlit clouds last night and thinking about how I want my children to know these people. That love is worth crossing oceans for, pushing past fears for. That I want my children to learn that lesson. For what is life for, if not to love?