Was I ever drinking rice wine in Laos?
Did I ever brave the flood of traffic in Saigon?
Have I really been bitten by jungle leeches in Malaysia?
I ask myself these questions each time I’m faced with the seemingly ordinary.
When I go shopping for groceries in a Safeway or when I watch the numbers tick along showing the number of dollars I’m spending on gasoline.
When I first crossed the threshold from travel to home in Western Washington I thought it might seem incredibly the same. I thought I might ease back into a familiar routine. I thought that I might just step back into a world that I know intimately and a world that I know the rules to.
At first I was not surprised, I rode back from the airport in a familiar car while watching familiar buildings drift by. It all looked pretty much the same. “Ah, good old Seattle, everything is right where I left it.” I thought.
But then something curious happened: I was wrong.
Nothing was the same. Some things appeared the same at first but a closer look revealed countless changes. So many differences appeared that I had to scramble to take it all in.
This is the point where the second strange thing happened: I found that the thing that had changed was me.
I started to notice myself reacting in different ways and from different places than I had before I left home 8 months earlier. The people and places had also changed but the thing that really surprised me was the way I had changed in such fundamental ways that I could not predict how I would react. My reflexes were coming from a different viewpoint. I could feel the familiar pulls of old habits but the more natural ways I had cultivated were my natural state now. This new person began to walk through his old life like a person wearing someone else’s unnoticeable mask. It felt like being the twin of someone I had never met and suddenly finding myself in their life. No one else could tell the difference at first glance and I could play the part but despite this I knew I wasn’t that person.
The final test in most of my journeys is to return home. It is the constant that I always test my changes against. This time I could not believe the old tale about how nothing ever changes as much as I expect it to. I have come home from many journeys and found that life is pretty much the same and that most of my new found person-hood is more of a slight shift in language, not exactly the planetary shift of rebirth that I expect.
This isn’t that massive shift either, this is not enlightenment, this is now a new me. I tend to think that all the talk of people not being themselves is kind of like the talk of how unnatural plastic or chemicals are. In reality nothing is unnatural but the use of the word still has some use. If you want to think of me as being more myself, sure, go for it but as far as I’m concerned I’ve always been myself throughout all my changes. The fact that something changes does not make each point less true in my opinion. The big difference in me now is that I appreciate who I am and enjoy who I am to a greater extent than I have in other points in my life. I have found ways to accept myself and relax in the journey.
But back to the point: this different viewpoint is such an interesting experience because I was able to get there without testing it against home for 8 months. Now it is being held up to the light and measured. Sometimes changes happen so slowly that its very hard to notice. This time I can notice it. Every person has changed, grown and moved in the last 9 months but I have the luxury of the homecoming. I hope each person that reads this can appreciate in themselves the immense journey they have come through to get here all the way from last year. More steps than can be easily recalled and these steps are just as important if not just as shocking. I have had the contrast of different countries, people and lifestyle to help me see my journey but I’d be surprised if I’ve been the only person I know to have forever stepped forward.