I’ve been meaning to sit down and put my thoughts to words for a week now. Arriving in the United States after 3 years abroad was certain to be a bit of a transition. This long separation is compounded by the nature of my lifestyle: the constantly shifting landscape (literally and metaphorically); the unique challenges of a life at sea; establishing myself for life and work in a (not so, but still) foreign country; and the very real fact that I have, over the past 3 years, manifested a life that is as close to my personal ideal as one can get while still balancing the needs and desires of three other individual beings.
Given these considerations, I should not have been at all surprised to find myself in a mild but persistent state of anxiety and disorientation. But it was a surprise. After all, I came back to visit family and good friends, in the place that I come from. I know the houses, and the faces, and the attitudes, and everyone sounds just like me. I can navigate any situation natively, without giving much thought to the social dynamics, even driving on the wrong (I mean right?) side of the road was no problem. But even though all of these things are just as I remember them, something has changed.
For the past week, I’ve been trying to put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the cold, which I haven’t experienced like this in eleven years. Maybe it’s the consumerism (I’ve been buying buying buying since I got here). Maybe its the… It wasn’t until I started discussing this post with my mom that I (well, she actually) figured it out. New England is pretty much just as I left it. It’s me that has changed.
I have created a life and lived an experience that is so tangential to the one I started from, that the people I grew up with don’t even have the context to understand my reality. The things people want to know about my trip seem irrelevant, superficial. I love talking about the beautiful places we visited, don’t get me wrong. But the thing that has made this reality ideal for me, has more to do with the moments in between. This ideal reality is born of self-sufficiency and competence, of relationships and their safeguarding, of teamwork and camaraderie, of obstacles overcome, and yes, to some extent beautiful turquoise water and white sand beaches. But what makes the destinations so sweet is what it took to arrive there.
Many of my cruising (and traveling) friends warned me that something like this would happen. I was almost prepared. But really, nothing can prepare you for feeling like a visitor in your native culture. As I struggle to adjust, to reacclimate (or reacclimatise as we say in Oz) a part of me worries that I might lose myself in the effort. That if I accept this reality, that my ideal might slip away. It is this struggle, the struggle to maintain my sense of self in a place where my self was born, that is causing me to feel lost where I know all the streets by heart.