Castles and Nomads

I had an unexpected conversation the other night that has stayed with me all day. I was talking to my older brother about life; how we’ve changed since we were kids, and what we thought we’d be doing and what we thought we’d be like. My brother and I don’t often have what you’d call deep conversations, so what he had to say and the fact that he said it was pretty big.

We were speaking about the desire to run away, and how much that can impact a person’s life. I’ve always been running away, not really away from anything in particular, but always looking for something to be different. Some may call that dissatisfaction, but there’s more to it than that. I am always looking for better, not because I think I’m better, but because I have an intrinsic need to find the most beautiful and true and real thing this world has to offer. At the end of the day it still looks the same I suppose – I am a person who goes quickly from one thing to the next and is always ready to travel and to move on.

My lament to my brother was that sometimes I get lost in the motions. Sometimes I wonder if I’m forgetting my true pursuits and dismissing things as less, and living only in the passage of one thing to the next. That life would be empty. I sometimes fear that I will wake up one day and realize how many things I have passed by and forgotten and realize that all I’ve done is run. This is not what I want for myself. I have been mulling over my motivations and self examining. Have I started merely to run without cause, without destination?

This course of thought leads me to wonder if I shouldn’t settle down. I don’t mean with a family or a mortgage or a life long commitment. I just mean put down roots and stop moving. Might I find that that’s what I needed to do all along? I cannot give up the traveling…

My brother had wise words, which unfortunately I will most likely represent poorly.

He told me that some people can build castles and be turtles, and others must be nomads. Some people can be grounded and not go far and build up a life around themselves right where they are and be successful and satisfied. The nomads cannot do this, or do not. The nomads go from one place to the next reaping of the benefits of their transitory locations, and moving on without building up.

Some people build castles, and that’s their empire, but people can go into a castle and take from it, and then you’ve lost something. Nomads have no castles, they have nothing you can take from them. Castles are great because you can see the fruits of your labors, because when you go somewhere you’ve got a place to return to.

But you’re like a nomad,” he told me, “you can go from one place to the next and glean what you can from any place at any time, you’re free. But at the end of the day there is no place for you to return to because you have no home. You live off the land. You take nothing with you. Nothing is yours.

Now, what I’d do would be to build a modest castle, one that is there for you and a perfect spot for you, but not too obtrusive, so people don’t know there’s anything to be taken, and then I’d go out and do the nomad bit, but I’d always have a place to go back to, a fail-safe. That way you get the best of both worlds; the freedom of the world and the security of a home. That’s the smartest way.

My brother understands a lot more than I give him credit for sometimes. I always sort of thought of these lives as mutually exclusive. I didn’t want to put down roots because I didn’t want to be trapped in just one place, just one experience. But then I look to the future and wonder what kind of life it will be when I have no place to call home and nothing to return to. I don’t know how I’ll be able to stand it. So I think one day I’ll have to put down roots, but what if then it’s too late to do so properly?

My brother’s solution is a metaphor. It can’t be taken exactly literally, especially if you’re into historical technicalities regarding castles or nomads, but at the same time it is so true. For me at the least, he perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy of these two lives; the best of both and the worst of both. And then he throws in his two cents on how he’d do it. I’m not even sure that I understand the full implications of these two different lives, or the one solution, but it has given me something to think about – a new perspective on the paths in front of me.

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