It seems to me that there is a lot of information out there about culture shock and a traveller adjusting to foreign cultures, but I haven’t heard a lot of stories about people when they come home. Perhaps that’s because all the stories are comparatively less exciting and, well, less foreign, but I think ending the sojourner’s story with the flight home is akin to ending a meal before all the silverware has been used: there’s something missing. It’s not a truthful account of experience. The return from the adventure is often seen as the last few moments before the credits roll, but of course real life doesn’t work like that. You can’t edit the rest of a return out of your life. And I think the confusing return to a homeland has a lot to say about who we are as Christians, as an in-between people. I don’t pretend to offer any deep insight here; I will just recount experience. I start off rather bleakly. Bear with me. From my journal, after my return to Grand Rapids, Michigan:
June 30, 2011
I’m not even sure where to begin. First of all, I am acutely aware of how anyone in Sparrows [coffee house] could read my writing. Theoretically, at least. We speak the same language, even if my handwriting is atrocious. Not that I think anyone is going to be peering over my shoulder, but it makes me feel very exposed.
For some reason, I am terrible at writing when things are actually happening. I also don’t know why I can’t shake my desire to catch up, which is never really possible anyway sine the feelings and reactions aren’t fresh. And what do I hope to accomplish by writing everything down? Who is my audience? One thing I do know, however. There have been entire episodes of my life that had slipped my mind before I read a journal entry about them. But again, to what purpose am I remembering?
I think, to find a narrative.
This morning when I woke up, the insulation along the roof seemed oppressive, everything felt close and inescapable, and I wondered again why I hadn’t run away to Kazakhstan.
I decided to call my mom. How glad I was to to be able to pick up a phone, whenever I took a fancy, and explain my thoughts to someone.
I saved up all my emotional disturbance for returning rather than leaving. There’s no one great thing – other than finding myself in my homeland. Which is, of course, not my home, just as I knew it wouldn’t be. Prior to leaving, I wouldn’t let anything hit me because I knew I needed all my stewing energy for traveling. Any time I did realize the import of every ticking second, I sprung for a book and drowned myself in other people’s strange lives.
Last night I finally felt the crushing weight of things moving faster than I know how to process them. And even if everything did slow down, I still don’t think I’d know how to process them. Every step out of Kathleen and Sarah’s house is overwhelming, sometimes to the point where I can’t catch my breath. (Though I’m not sure if that’s the result of overwhelming life or overwhelming comparative pollution.) When the cashier at Sami’s Gyros complimented me on my bag, I hadn’t the faintest idea how to respond. [People don’t do that in Eastern Europe.] I’m afraid of people smiling at me because then I’ll have to expend the energy to smile back, so I put on my best disengaged European face and hope people don’t think I’m too rude. The fact that I can understand every word people say is jarring and distracting; there’s still a catch in my chest at recognizing a fellow English speaker. And I have the upmost difficulty not paying attention to what they are saying.