On Returning Home
I’ve been home from China for over two weeks now, and it’s almost as if I never left. It’s amazing how easy it is to fit right back into my life and routines even after being away for so long. I have read a few other people’s blogs about returning home after a long stint abroad, and many seem to have had similar experiences of falling right back into familiar paths upon their return. This phenomenon reminds me of something Thoreau wrote in the conclusion to Walden:
I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves…. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!
It occurs to me that no matter how much I have learned or grown or changed during my time away, the people back home have carried on with their lives with little-to-no variation or change, and now I must reinsert myself, a changed person, back into relationships and routines that remain unchanged. In these circumstances it is easy to fall back into old patterns and old ways of being, which are sometimes “ruts of tradition and conformity,” without integrating new experiences and lessons. How deep and long-lasting indeed are “the paths which the mind travels.”
I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.
I think this pretty much sums up my approach to China this time around. Rather than an easy, comfortable journey, I wanted a challenge that would stretch me and allow me to experience an unfiltered version of Chinese culture. True, there were moments when I did long for the comforts of home, but at those times I reminded myself that I was in China, so I might as well be fully present and enjoy even the beautiful discomfort of the experience while I still had the chance. Ironically, since returning home I have already had similar moments of longing for something else, something different, something more, something that even the familiar and comfortable cannot satisfy. I have realized that I don’t have to be in China to take a moment to enjoy what’s right in front of me. Even here in this place where I am much more comfortable I experience discomfort. And here, just as I did in China, I can challenge myself and stretch beyond my typical way of being to appreciate the sometimes harsh, though nevertheless beautiful realities of life, for I have had an experience that has changed me and “I do not wish to go below now.”