Wow. No one told me how hard this would be. I guess I knew it would be tough, but I didn’t realize how similar this would be to coming home from my mission to Hungary. So many of the same feelings are there. “What could I possibly do at home that has as much meaning as this?” “How do I describe such a life-changing event to people who can never understand?” “How will my new self fit into my old life?” “Where do I go from here?” It feels like everything is the same at home…except me.
Standing on the ship, waving to my family on the San Diego dock, I realized one important thing: I was more terrified of this port than any previous ones. This was the port that brought me to my knees. Ironic, right? That after Ghana or, heck, India, I’m terrified to step off the gangway into my “home” country. Ironic, right? After getting lost in Ghana for hours and lost in Brazil trying to find a Deaf school, I’m terrified of a country where I know exactly where the nearest Walmart is and can google map any other location. Ironic, right? That after sitting on a sketchy Indian train at night or having my every word being overheard and analyzed by Chinese military in Tibet, I’m terrified of being in a place where I could walk down the road, alone, with no protection and most likely reach my destination completely safe. Ironic, right?
Stepping off that ship meant re-entering my past life, and no “re-entry seminar” or discussion group could possibly have prepared me for this. When someone complains about dinner, I find myself instantly seething. When someone complains about work, I have to bite my lip to keep from chewing them out. Even worse, when I find myself complaining about being in the US, I’m in shock and scared. After seeing starving children with no hope in India or watching Ghanaians work to bring home meager support or seeing the fear in Tibetans eyes as they scurry back to their homes after work, how can I possibly complain? It brings out the fear that each one of my SAS friends and I have: that truly, deep-down we have not changed in the least bit and that we are just like the stereotypical American who complains while in plenty and gripes while in wealth.
When arriving in Dominica or South Africa or Vietnam, I had no idea what to expect and eagerly anticipated who I would be a week later when I would climb up the gangway as a new person. Exiting off Deck 5 of the MV Explorer in San Diego meant the fear of the known…of what I have been in a ‘previous life’ that seems so very long ago and at the same time only a few shorts months in the past. I guess exiting off my shipboard home for the final time meant a fear of the old person…the fear that I really am simply one of the millions of tourists who see exotic places and return home only to show their pictures, relate exaggerated tales, and then return back to the life of luxury they held before.
Our entire voyage we have been encouraged to not be tourists, but travelers. Those who see, experience, absorb and, in essence, create a new self. I hoped that when I’d return I’d be part Cambodian, part Japanese, part Mauritian, part Brazilian, part Singaporean, part Ghanaian, part Chinese, part South African, part Hong Kong, part Dominican, part Tibetan, part Vietnamese, and part Bahamian. Then I come home, find myself eating cereal, looking at facebook, visiting friends, texting galore and can’t help but wonder where my multi-cultural self has gone so quickly.
Thankfully, I’m able to read the posts of my SAS friends and see their similar struggles. I’m able to chat with SAS-ers who are desperately trying to fight these fears as well. Thankfully, I was able to go to the LDS temple on Saturday and church on Sunday and enjoy one thing that I have missed during my travels: steady church and the steady comfort of the Spirit. Then I read a quote again this morning that a friend of mine gave me our last full day on my shipboard home:
Excerpt from Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-term World Travel-Rolf Potts
“As for the practical challenges of ‘reentry’ into your home life (moving in, finding a job, starting a routine), confront them all as new adventures. Rediscover your work, and do it well. Redeploy your simplicity, and make it pay out in free time. Emulate the best of people who themselves were at home when you met them on your travels. Pinpoint what you learned from them – hospitality, fun, reverence, integrity – and incorporate these things into your own life. Integrate the deliberate pace and fresh perspective that made your travel experience so vivid, and allow for unstructured time in your day-to-day home schedule. Don’t let the vices you conquered on the road – fear, selfishness, vanity, prejudice, envy – creep back into your daily life. Explore your hometown as if it were a foreign land, and take an interest in your neighbors as if they were exotic tribesmen. Keep things real, and keep on learning. Be creative, and get into adventures. Earn your freedom all over again and don’t set limits. Keep things simple and let your spirit grow.
But most of all, keep living your life in such a way that allows your dreams room to breathe. Because you never know when you’ll feel the urge to hit the road again.”
It was the perfect quote for me this morning. I am determined not to be the same but to keep all the good changes I have made. I am determined to grow in this new port just like the others. Yes, this port will most likely be a long one, one that I most likely will not be able to compare my old and new self on simply because of the timetable. But I know that I spent hundreds of hours writing in my journal so that I would remember the life-changes, I have made hundreds of hours of videos so that I can watch and reflect, and I have hundreds of incredible SAS friends who know my new self and expect nothing less than that new self from here on out.
This trip has blessed me in so many ways, but one particular way rises above the rest. I now know what I want to do in my life. I felt like I was guided this entire trip to what I am supposed to do. Let me be clear: there was nothing general about this direction, it was specific and clear. As things move forward I will be asking for your support in this dream: those of you that, for some reason I can’t understand, have read every word of this drawn-out post and every entry of this lengthy blog. I am so grateful that I have my next goal laid out and ready to be accomplished and look forward to about a year from now when I can start the culmination of my Semester At Sea experience!
Life is oh-so-good. There are so many blessings to be enjoyed…and more importantly, shared. This blog isn’t over, but my Semester at Sea portion is complete. Thank you, each of you, for traveling the world with me through this blog. Thank you for the support in all of my crazy dreams and the love that you give so readily in hard times. There is one thing that I know: that the Lord has put angels in every stage of my life. People who are more my family than most of my extended blood relatives. I am so grateful He has blessed me with each of you.