When you’re an astronomy family, as we are (my partner is an astronomer), you move around a lot, at least in the first eight to ten years. If astronomers are studying to stay in academia, they typically do a Ph.D., then two post-doctoral positions before moving on to a more permanent placement. Ian finished all of these a while back, but as is typical, we followed that moving trajectory. We’ve lived in three states together.
Eight years ago, we were transitioning out of Austin, Texas toward what was next, and for a brief window, we had two completely different possibilities before us. There were two offers to two positions in two different states. During that time, I remember having an intriguing thought:
There is probably some core part of myself that will be the same no matter if we choose State 1 or State 2. But once we’ve finished that experience, and it’s time to leave, other parts of me will probably be different depending on whether we’ve chosen State 1 or State 2. The people we meet and the experiences we’ll have will somehow make us more particular. State 1 Renee and State 2 Renee will be somewhat different from one another.
Of course, we weren’t going to move to both places, so I could never know this for sure. But it was an interesting thought exercise because deep down, I think that’s true. There are core parts of ourselves that ring true to who we are matter where we go. But throughout our lives, we become much of who we are in and through our relationships. The people we know particularize us in a sense — not making us less who we are, but making us more of who we are.
We come to know ourselves in relationships, and the experiences we have in those relationships shape the trajectory of our lives. How we choose vocations, partners, friends. . . How we develop a life philosophy. . . How we build families. . . How we root ourselves in a sense of place. Relationships particularize us, making our lives more specifically what they become. In this process, we become more uniquely ourselves.