I sit on the sturdy plastic chair across from my doctor, a vibrant yet calming middle-aged woman who has been more of a counselor than a physician to me.
“You look older,” she says.
My weight is the same, my hair still that thick auburn, but I think she’s looking at my eyes.
“If I were to guess your age, I would say about 25.”
She also tells me that maybe, just maybe, I might have developed an ulcer.
Strangely, the journey home was tied up as neatly as a Hallmark movie, a stark contrast to the genre I’d gotten used to. While waiting for my flight from Russia to Germany, I checked my phone to find I had been accepted to the Masters in TESOL program I had applied for. At Gordon graduation, I would have thrown a tantrum at the prospect of more school. Now, I see it as a way to do what I’ve learned that I love doing.
In Germany, while waiting to board my plane to Boston, my tired eyes landed, surprised, on an old acquaintance from college. He was my T.A. freshman year, the one who had first told me about the Fulbright program. I approached him and we talked for two minutes, small talk mostly, but for me, significant. As I boarded the plane, as silly as it sounds, I realized that I was older. I smiled as I remembered the nervous freshman who had to rally every last bit of courage to say a word to the genius senior who held the answers to the meaning of life. Coming full circle so seamlessly- can it be coincidental?
No, there are no coincidences in His kingdom.
Preparing myself for reverse culture shock was unnecessary. As Mom and Dad drive me home from the airport, I do notice that the roads on the highway are really, really smooth.
But haven’t they always been that way?
The waitress at the steak house we stop at speaks English and has a wide smile that I am supposed to rejoice at.
But aren’t waitresses always that way?
I drive the car for the first time in nine months, and it feels comfortable, natural, freedom to the tune of country music and windows rolled down. Coffee makers and reliable hot showers and not straining to find the right words are taken for granted, because that’s the way things have always been.
Things have always been this way, yet I feel that I’ve taken a backpack off. A backpack full of rocks, a bag I got used to hauling everywhere until I couldn’t remember life without it. Now, I am surprised at how easy it is to walk. I think I could even run.
Still, it is not automatic to be the person you’ve become in the place where you were a different person, in a place where you hadn’t conquered the fears you faced in a different dimension. It was Narnia, where you fought and grew and were crowned. Now that you’re back, you have to fight to keep that identity.
I now stand like Polly and Digory in the Wood between the Worlds, in limbo, in that oscillation between a joyful trust fall and a distrustful cynicism.
There is so much I want to do! I want to write that book, start a Russian school, travel, teach, go to grad school, fall in love, buy a car, pay off my student loans!
My brain is an exclamation point.
My brain is an exclamation point, but maybe I’ve missed the message in caps before that eager piece of punctuation.
I am not used to slowing down.
The past five years have been to and from and flights and car rides and new semesters and new places and new people and new jobs and since I was, 18 life has been a perpetual run on sentence and I’ve never stopped.
How does one stop?
Since I’ve been back, I’ve dreamed twice about juggling. It is a failure dream, of Dad and me passing clubs like we have a thousand times, but this time, I drop every pass. The shiny blue pins are foreign in my hands. We try again and again, and Dad assures the audience that we’ll get it. I go through the familiar, confident motions, but the clubs slip through my hands like butter.
Four days after I returned, I coached at a basketball camp, the camp that I went to as a sixth grader, the camp that I came home from crying the first day then went back and faced my fears. I hadn’t played basketball in a while, but it came back to me as easily as hot showers and coffeemakers. The familiar drills were therapy for a mind that was dying for distraction from the implications of uprooting and replanting. I was the coach question of the day, and the little girls soon found out that it was me who spent the last nine months in Russia. One asked why, and when I gave her a bite size answer that didn’t begin to tell the half of it, something about going to teach people English, she looked at me matter-of-factly and said,
“That’s no reason to go down to Russia.”
All I could do was laugh.