People have weights. I’m not talking about pounds, kilograms, or whatever number system a person subscribes to. I am talking about the places and spaces a person inhabits by existing. I will give an example to illustrate this idea. Before leaving the states for Istanbul in February, my thoughts concerned themselves, mostly, with how life proceeds in the places I am not—how would friends that I passed time with would fill their days? How would I fill mine? Would our daily activities change because of my absence in one place and new presence in another?
Then I began to feel the power of the collective unconscious. I’d reach out to family and friends overseas after dreaming of them one night, hearing a song or having conversations that brought me back to memories I shared with them and they’d tell me how they had a similar thought or that I too had been on their mind. I began to ask myself, am I still present in places that my body is not? Does my presence hold enough weight to be felt in my absence?
Two nights ago I ran into a friend I had not seen in one month. Although he has technically been studying in Istanbul for the last year, he has spent most of his time traveling around Southeast Asia and the Middle East, interning and writing for a Kurdish newspaper. He and I grabbed a few beers and walked up the hill from my residence to enjoy the sunset and catch up. The sun was setting behind us, over Europe, and we watched Asia turn pink and orange, mosques outlined through the haze that sits right above the ground throughout the city, while boats and ferries sailed back and forth across the Bosporus, the water cutting itself like broken glass bottle pieces all the while listening to traffic ebb and flow and his stories of his time spent away from Istanbul.
This friend told me that he never thought he’d be doing what he has done—running toward gunfire and bombs to get the story, knowing all too well that the logical thing is to run away. I then asked him how it makes him feel to come back to places like Istanbul, to enjoy sitting in twilight, drinking beers and watching night swallow a city. Is it more subdued? Does it seem less exciting or worthwhile? He said, it’s all about the contrast. When you’re away from a place that you come to know in some way, a place of comfort or stability, you think only of what you are doing in that moment, usually. You do what you need to do, to exist on our own and navigate. Then when you come back, you have a memory that is so real in your mind’s eye, but one that you can only relate through stories. The contrast between those two lives or existences is what it’s all about.
Of course I asked if that made one more valid. And he said again, it’s all about the contrast.
And here we come back to where we started: weights. Early this morning my roommate left Istanbul. I woke up to a room with whiter walls, a pile of garbage to be collected by the cleaning women, two cigarettes she left for me, assorted toiletries which she did not want, and the sound of my own breathing as I awoke. The absence of a person and their energy. Even though her body was not present, I felt the weight of her existence in this place. She is now living in the contrast my friend talked about. She will be in Mexico by the end of this day and only have stories to tell about the experience. I too am living in the contrast without her presence. But the weight of people in places they have left stays long after they leave.