… on Coming Home
Music: Phillip Phillips – Home
Growing up, I was often told I could be anything I wanted. This conjured fantasies of flying aboard the space shuttle or wading through rivers, face covered in camouflage paint, preparing to ambush evil men alongside my Navy SEAL brethren. The truth, much more painful, is that life has a rude way of closing doors and extinguishing the many dreams we have harbored since childhood. This seems to become more evident the older we get, as our lives get molded to fit into structured boxes, and our futures are penned in permanent ink on degrees we got on a whim or because of advice from a parent or guidance counselor. Houses are bought, relationships become unions, and debt accrues. Suddenly, no matter how hard a dream pulls at our heart, it becomes clouded in a sea of responsibility until it’s eventually lost to time.
That felt really depressing to write, but reality is not always that bad. I understand there are a lot of people that prefer safety, security, and comfort; and I am not trying to demean their decisions. It could be someone’s dream, who has lived a life full of change and turbulence, to go to a 9 to 5 and own that suburban house with a white picket fence. That is their prerogative and the true essence and beauty of life: We are masters of our own fate. Barring extreme circumstances, it is possible to build the lives of our dreams and to, in fact, be anything we wanted, to live the line we were fed as children but never understood. It took me a quarter of my life to believe it, and a few more years before I acted upon it.
For me the dream was travel. In my eyes, there is no better feeling than to wake up in a strange place where no one knows my name or history and with the complete freedom to shape my day as I see fit. When I travel, I am constantly being thrusted into new and uncomfortable situations where the outcome is uncertain and my character is constantly tested. When I travel, I shed all the stress and fears of life at home and open myself up to the road and whatever uncertainties lie ahead. There is no written guide for quitting the career you worked hard to build to travel, or moving your life on the road, or spending seven months mostly alone and in unfamiliar locales — but for me, that’s the draw. It’s waking up to a thousand open doors every morning and being able to make a choice. It’s the new sights and sounds that pull me from autopilot mode and make me feel like a child again, rediscovering the world and myself. It is the escape from monotony and the well-worn path of life, one last ditch effort to prove that it is still possible to live your dreams and forge your own path in this world.
And then you land. The dream is over, and your cell phone is back on. Friends are calling, wanting to catch up, and you have to manage time and schedules again. You have to wake up early today because you have X, Y, and Z to do before lunch — and don’t even think about taking time for your self later because so-and-so needs you. You become a commodity again, reintroduced into the economy of life, of working day in and day out to pay for a lot of things you never truly need. While it is great to see family and friends again, the transition is also extremely jarring. Your recently enormous world is continually stripped bare until you are placed back in your cage, obligations and responsibilities denoting your every move. Your only coping strategy is to withdraw, to sink back into the gilded memories of your travels.
Coming home, I finally understood why my friends who studied abroad or had traveled when they were younger never stopped talking about it. Your soul begs for an outlet, a way of making sense of a reality that doesn’t seem real in hindsight. Constantly telling stories or mentioning your experiences becomes unrestrained arrogance, and it is far too easy to border on pretentiousness. The self-aware will keep their memories to themselves or between the friends they made while abroad. They will try to go back to work, boldly stepping back into the structured box. But how can it ever be the same? How has someone that has had a taste of filet mignon willingly be fed Hamburger Helper for the next thirty years?
The closest I have come to an answer occurred one cold afternoon in October. I walked into Women and Infants Hospital with my parents to see my sister and meet her new baby boy, Benjamin. He is my first nephew and holding him for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. Looking into his half open eyes and realizing he has only begun his life’s journey hours before, all I could think was “You can be anything you want.” I saw the endless possibilities and open doors of his future, and I couldn’t help but smile.
“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”