Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Hardest Part About Leaving…

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times: the hardest part about traveling is coming home again.

The first time I truly traveled – in that I left everything I knew about the world behind and exposed myself to something wholly foreign – was the time I struggled with coming home the most profoundly. This was when I was 14 years old and traveled to Tijuana, Mexico for a mission trip with my church. I worked in orphanages and assisted living facilities. I carried cement up a hill for an entire day to build the foundation of a one-room home for a family of 6.

Beyond the experience of traveling outside the United States for the first time, the confrontation of scarcity a girl from Northern Minnesota couldn't have prepared herself for changed my life. Coming home from that trip was a painful experience – I felt disjointed from my friends and family who had never seen the things I had seen, I felt guilty about the lush forests and acres of land surrounding my home as well as my family’s comparable wealth. Most profoundly, I was horrified by my own privilege for being able to walk away from the people I met. I was baffled that I had just gotten on an airplane and gone there – then come back. I couldn’t believe that dusty, strange world had ever existed, still existed in fact, from my bedroom in Clover Valley. As an adult who’s studied social justice and thought a lot about what in the world “helping” or serving means for both the helpers and those being helped, I also recognize that I was facing a lot of confusion and trying to tackle the dynamics of privilege and a much deeper issue - which is another rant for another time, honestly.

Other times I’ve come home and it has been such a powerful relief, I can hardly articulate the pleasure of a beautiful July afternoon, sitting in a park with friends, feeling grass below my skin after months in Venezuela, which was arguably one of the most difficult times of my life – once again for reasons that are too long of a story for today.

I had considered the fact that coming home after this most recently trip would, of course, be its’ own brand of newness and strangeness. I had thought about the prospects and pressures of finding a job, the reality that I was moving back into my parent’s house after nearly ten years of being away. I was, all at once horrified at the fact that my adventure so well planned and dreamed of for so long had come to an end, and so relieved and delighted to be heading home. Home to my favorite city in the world, to my family, to the wonderful community of Minneapolis. Winter be damned: it was home!

And in the beginning, it was so good. It was the typical whirlwind I've had every time I've come home since moving to California: see everyone as quickly as possible. Catch up until late. Hug long. I was sleeping in friend’s houses, sharing a bed with my sister. Job hunting, sure. Waitressing, yeah. But nothing felt real, I didn't comprehend that I was here for good – until about a month ago.

On April first, I moved into this lovely studio apartment on Grand Ave: the neighborhood I’ve always dreamed of living in. Near the Mississippi, lots of trees, lots of breweries and restaurants. A brownstone with built-ins just like I’ve been picturing when I thought about my life in the Twin Cities. I’d been working for a month for an organization that challenged me, where I was respected and pushed -  and that most importantly is doing work I believe in- for a month. I lovingly put each book in its place. I made the bed. I hung the same maps which have followed me across the walls of 4 states now, covered in scrawls of marks of where I’ve been. I hung my colorful lamps from Turkey, the evil eyes from Greece, the beautiful table cloth from Vienna: all the things I’d day dreamed about putting into a home while on the road.

I made an amazing dinner, opened a bottle of wine from California I’d been saving for the occasion. I took a bath in my claw foot tub and for like, four days, I basked in the glory of being home after living out of a suitcase for nearly 10 months.

Then it hit me: this is it. I’m here. Trains through foreign cities, getting lost along rivers, writing my book for hours every day, then going home and drinking wine with my crew of friends at the hostel. It's all done. I'm in the Twin Cities. It happened, and though it's all I ever wanted, it means so much has come to an end.

That’s that.

I’ve been surprised at this reaction, after the depth of my longing for a home, for a place of my own for so long. I suppose it stands to reason, given my own wanderlust, and the change of life’s pace. I knew I was being silly when, on a hot day in Serbia, I daydreamed of the routine of driving through traffic to get to work, cramming some granola and yogurt at red lights and sipping coffee from behind my legs.

I can tell you with certainly: the grass is always greener, no matter where you go in the world.

All of that is to say, though I still look longingly at maps – all the places on that big colorful map above my bed still missing black dots, specifically – though I’m still watching deals from GAdventuers (who I traveled in Peru and Turkey with) like I have money to afford any trips at all, I am so happy to be home. This transition is just a process of reminding myself of that. Being able to go my friend’s birthday and bachelorette parties, watching the spring leaves make everything heart achingly lush, working for an organization that challenges me and aligns so well with what I want to  be doing.

I’m truly lucky. The transition back was as good as it could possibly have been. This is exactly where I want to be, usually, and deep down in my heart I know it’s where I need to be – at least right now. I will say I’m surprised: I kind of thought I’d be as good at coming home this time as I was as being an intrepid, independent traveler. But all is well. Really.

I just have to keep slowing down and reminding myself of all of this, which is good practice no matter what. No matter where in the world I am!

Just about a year ago today I got the tattoo: Swallows are a traditional sailor's
tattoo: they travel the farthest of any animal, but they always return home.