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Leaving Home

A commentary by Susan Estrich

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

For the past two weeks, I've been traveling across the country interviewing law students who have applied for jobs at my law firm. I talk to young people from New York who want to be in California, and to young people from California who want to be in New York. Some days, it seems like the only constant is that (almost) no one wants to be where they're from -- and where their family is.

When I was applying to college, my mother told me I could apply to any school within the Boston subway map. I stayed inside that circle for college and law school and, but for a few quick interludes in Washington, until I was pregnant with my daughter, 20 years ago. Since then, I've lived three thousand miles away from those familiar subways, in a city that is now my home.

When I ask the young people from California why they want to go to New York, and the ones from the east why they're determined to go west, I hear what you'd expect: new challenges, different weather, boyfriends, girlfriends, to make a name... They laugh when I say, "But your poor mother." Occasionally, they suggest that their mothers should move, but most aren't serious about it.

Moving is easy, exciting, an adventure -- when you're young. Later, not so much. I love Massachusetts, my old home. Sometimes, late at night, I even study the real estate ads in my old hometown. But it's not even a fantasy. My parents are both gone. The world I left doesn't exist anymore. Neither does the person I was.

The young people I talk to aren't just crisscrossing the country. Many have spent extended periods on the other side of the world. They expect to live many places in their lives, to hop on planes to live in places I won't ever see. But what about your mother, I ask. They laugh.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this business of letting go -- letting go of the children God gives to us for such a brief time before they go off on their own; letting go of old homes, old friends, old places and old dreams. From these students' perspective, it's all about more -- new and different, bigger and better. From mine, it sometimes seems like just the opposite.

I am less ambitious than I used to be. What I seek is not more, but grace. Not power, but serenity. Not the ability to hold on to what I cannot hold, but the peace to enjoy what I have and hold back the tears of loss.

I remember doing these same interviews as a student, certain that I knew where I was going and what I wanted; determined to get there faster, better, stronger; trying to persuade the old person on the other side of the desk that I was smarter and tougher and surer than the person who came before me and the one who would come after; certain that happiness was just a "callback" or an "offer" away.

Sometimes, these days, I want to reach across the table and tell them not to worry so much, not to give us power we really don't have, not to care so much about what we think of them. Really, we don't know so much. We look at transcripts, at numbers on a page, at who went to what school. It means something, but so much less than we pretend it does.

The truth is that it will all work out somehow -- not necessarily the way we planned, not necessarily the way we choose, but its own way, some way. Play your cards as best you can, and enjoy the game. Wherever you go, there you are. And whatever you do, don't forget to call home.

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