Cathy Madison on Moving On

Flying home from vacation a few years ago, I was bored and seat-bound, not to mention irritated by the eight stops the route required. Seizing a napkin, I decided to list the airports we would visit that day, plus all the airports I’d ever visited. The total came to 67, and the exercise led not only to a flood of memories I’d long forgotten, but also to musings about why it is we must always go.

The urge to keep moving may be genetic, senior editor Jeremiah Creedon, who shepherded our Modern Nomad cover section, told me. He cited writer Bruce Chatwin and others, who have speculated that the babies who survived the migrations of early eras were the ones quieted by movement; babies who cried became a burden to their families and were left behind.

I learned that lesson early. A military family, we moved often: coast to coast, continent to continent. Moving taught me that home, or rootedness, is internal; it had little to do with the house we lived in, the schools we attended, or the people next door. We had a rule: On the day we moved into new quarters–regardless of how late it was, how tired we were, or whether we’d found the silverware–we had to hook up the stereo so we had music, and we had to hang the pictures on the walls. Then we would be home.

When we moved out, we patched the nail holes with Crest toothpaste and scrubbed until the place looked as if we’d never been there. We assumed we would see our friends again on the streets of foreign cities, in distant airports (yes, it has happened), or maybe even right next door at another address halfway around the world (that happened, too), so we never said good-bye. And we had another rule: We never cried.

At no time in history have so many people moved so much. Although the majority of migrations may still be forced by war or famine, most of you probably move by choice–for jobs, family, pleasure, or adventure. When I phone my daughter Kristin in Connecticut, she nonchalantly reports on her boyfriend (in Boston), her car (in California), and her friends (in China and Malaysia). At our tiny “cabin” in Los Angeles, where my mate Rick’s production company has an office, two clocks, one for each of our time zones, hang side by side in the kitchen. When I call him on his cell phone, my first question is always, “Where are you?”

Is this good for us, all this restlessness? For the first time in my life, I’ve put down roots in one city. I love what they mean: knowing all the back roads and hole-in-the-wall repair shops; greeting Bill at the coffee shop, who starts my latte as soon as he sees me; watching the same people navigate their lives through job and family changes. This morning I walked, as I often do, around a nearby lake; I saw life (brand-new ducklings), death (road kill), and beauty (a snowy egret). On those walks, I’ve learned to predict weather, the change of seasons, communal moods and shifts; all the movement I need is right there. Why would I ever want to go anywhere else?

And yet. Something drives us, or me at least. The challenge becomes learning to define our own sense of home, whether life deposits us in airports, a phenomenon J.G. Ballard and Carol Becker explore (page 50), or in a country far removed, geographically and culturally, from our homeland, as Pico Iyer so eloquently describes (page 42). We must face that most basic of challenges: finding and maintaining a balance, knowing when and how to put down roots, and when and how to move on.

Speaking of which, this issue, our 100th, is my last as editor. I have had the honor of guiding 10 of those 100 issues, and judging by the rate at which subscribers are renewing, they have been among our best. Working with this editorial team has been one of those special times so rare in a career, as we’ve fought together against daunting odds, refused to give up when shoes kept dropping, collapsed in giggles on late Friday nights, and always tried to write a better headline. Never have I felt so passionate about what I was doing, nor so awed by the talents and dedication of my colleagues. I won’t say good-bye to them, because I know we will meet again. But this time, this leaving, will make me cry.

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