I’m researching future job prospects but continue to dwell on the past as Eddie Vedder begins talking to me. Not me in the figurative sense. I mean me. “Into the Wild” was the soundtrack for a large part of our around the world journey and now all the emotions of the last 500 days of my life are rushing to and through me. One month is not enough time to digest and reflect on the experience of a lifetime, I think to myself.
Laura defined so well in her “Homeward Bound” article our mutual feelings of what this experience has meant to us. We were both acceptably unprepared for our re-entry to American society. We returned during the holiday season, and with it, to all of America’s pomp and splendor: packed shopping malls, over-the-top Christmas decorations and Starbucks’ red and white holiday-themed cups.So why then was I so shocked not to be shocked upon our return? At first, I thought it was because our first taste of American soil came in the form of JFK’s international terminal, itself a cauldron of the world’s people. We boarded the train from JFK out to Queens and then rode the subway into the heart of mid-town, only to fully re-engage with our American selves smack-dab in the heart of Times Square. That would surely give us the shock we were expecting and a definitive end to our long sojourn, right? Surreal – yes – but shocking, no. Surely then, an incredible “Rainman” suite at a nice hotel courtesy of my business traveling-brother would provide the culture shock that we knew awaited? Still, nothing. And the up-scale Manhattan steakhouse where he took us to celebrate our homecoming? Wonderful rib-eye, but no culture shock.
Obviously this trip was different in that we never fully immersed ourselves in one culture and language. We were on the move the entire year, like chameleons, constantly changing our colors to fit into our new surroundings. Although we felt at home in certain places, our average country-long stay of three weeks would never be enough time to let our roots grow anywhere.And so it begins. It’s now been four weeks since we arrived home and we’re in transit again, only this time, not to some unexplored and exotic new place, but to visit family in Charlotte. The change in atmosphere is making itself known to me. The comforts of home and the same place to lay my head each night is now feeling uncomfortable. Home is where the heart is, so the saying goes. But my soul lies elsewhere. It’s been exiled to the many places we called “home” throughout our travels. It’s spread out among the friends and people we met along the way and somehow has yet to catch up with us.
A very good friend emailed me with two months remaining in my 14 month around the world journey. “Who have you become as a result of your travels?” she asked. The same hard question I’d been asking myself all year long. The problem was I didn’t have the answer. In many ways, I feel supremely sure of who I am, what I want and what I’ve learned. But in many other ways, I am more conflicted than ever before.
I feel I have opened my world but have closed my mind. I am more judgmental, not less; critical of others when I should be more accepting; angrier when faced with perceived ignorance and less filled with a desire to educate; less empathetic to the concerns of those close to me when I should be more. Why? I simply don’t know.
I wish I could finish this by saying something uplifting and grand instead of feeling the way I do. But life and emotions are not always dictated the way we want them to be. And for now, that will have to be OK.