A couple of days ago, Jeff came in and cheerfully announced that it was just 12 days until we would be back in the States. It was an innocent statement of fact, but I felt like all the air was sucked out of the room.
In the last year, we have traveled to more than 30 countries and have navigated different languages and cultures and a wide variety of living situations all along the way. Sometimes, it has been a bit nerve-racking and uncomfortable. But, honestly, I wasn't as nervous about entering and living in any of those places as I am about the next country on our list. This is odd, because the next one is the one that should feel comfortable, that should feel like home.
Don't get me wrong, I love the U.S. and am proud to be an American. I miss my family and friends and recognize the many and varied opportunities that the Land of the Free provides. And, truthfully, it's not so much the country that makes me nervous; it's the settling in. For better or worse, I'm much better at passing through than I am at digging in, which is something I hadn't fully realized about myself before this trip, but which has become abundantly clear. I really do have a nomad's heart.
Part of the struggle for me about re-entering my home country are the spoken and unspoken expectations and visible and invisible pressures that come with being an American. I have not missed these things. When you are a foreigner in a foreign land, people may think your behavior odd, but they do not expect you to conform to their ideas, because they recognize that you are just passing through. But when you're a local, it's different. The problem, for me, is that I very often feel like a foreigner in my own country, but I feel like that's not o.k. because homegrowns are expected to "get it" and to conform to whatever society deems normal, and I'm just not very good at that. And, further, I feel like I've only just really found myself while we've been traveling and have only had a very short time to get to know this person that I really kind of like. I'm concerned that our return may mean I never see this person again (though I sincerely hope this isn't true and will certainly do what I can to make sure we stay in touch). I realize if I were settling down permanently in another country, it would essentially be the same, but I imagine the grace period would be a bit longer for me to get my act together and start acting like everyone else.
I know that we need to go back. And, I know that we need to settle in at this particular point in our lives. We will find activities to be involved in, we will establish new normals, and we will grow and change in new and different ways. We will meet new people and reconnect with those whom we've known for years. And, we will be better for all of it, just as we are better for this season of nomadic exploration. We will still travel and have adventures (beginning with our first month back in the States, when we will be exploring the Hawaiian islands). There will be sad times, of course, and we will, no doubt, miss many things about our life abroad. But, there will also be happy times that we never could have imagined, and there will likely be many things that are better than they were when we were nomads. I know all of this. But, my inner nomad still struggles against the act of settling in and sometimes struggles to breathe under the the weight of what that means.
I realize that there are far worse problems in the world than where I live and that most of what I'm feeling is probably more in my head than anything else. But as Dumbledore says in the last book of Harry Potter, when Harry asks if what he's experiencing is real or just happening in his head, "Of course it's happening inside your head...but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"
Processing my thoughts in writing seems to infuse oxygen into the cramped space inside my head, making it easier to catch my breath, so thank you for indulging me in this honest brain dump. Also, some of you have asked what coming back feels like, after being away so long. This is pretty much it. I know it isn't all sunshine and roses, but it is real, and I think the world needs a bit more of that sometimes. And, even if the world doesn't need it, I definitely do.