[Home is Another Thing]

Earlier this year, I approached one of my brilliant writer friends if she’d compose a piece about travel because she’s living abroad in Japan for the first time, and I wanted to see travel through fresh eyes.

Fresh eyes renews the perspective.

I was struggling with a proper introduction for this, but then I read this article:

“Daily, I meditate on home as the location of our memories, the embodiment of our common nostalgia. Whether you are a nomad or someone who has lived in the same place for decades, where you find home is a defining feature of your personality. I wish I could say simply that we choose home as much as it chooses us, but I think it’s more complicated than that, whether or not you’ve ever been homeless. Home is probably more than one place. Maybe we all have several: the place where we live now, the place where we grew up, and the place we dream of returning to.

If we are lucky, maybe we find all of these somewhere on a map.

If we are lucky, maybe we learn that home is another thing.

I also agree with Maya Angelou, who told The Paris Review, “I never agreed, even as a young person, with the Thomas Wolfe title, You Can’t Go Home Again … The truth is, you can never leave home. You take it with you; it’s in your fingernails; it’s in the hair follicles; it’s in the way you smile … it’s all there, no matter where you go.”

————-

“Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty.”
~E.M. Forester, Howard’s End

We were whitewater rafting on the Koboke Gorge, one of the prime spots for the pastime in Japan, and I was just a tad nervous.  I can’t remember ever having rafted before (though calm kayaking is a definite “check”), and the river was pretty choppy from the heavy rain in the days prior.  We hadn’t gotten far down the river–not even past any rapids yet– when our guides directed us to the shore.  “Anyone want to jump off this cliff into the water?”

I’m not a risk-taker or a thrill seeker.  I hardly ever do anything dangerous, and I seldom act before thinking.  And rethinking.  And thinking some more.  So, when I found myself at the cliff’s edge, it was after a very distinct and logical thought process: After I’m back in America, when’s the next chance I’ll get to cliff-jump in the Koboke Gorge?  So, uncharacteristically of me, there was only a little hesitation before I took a running jump.

I jumped, dropped for forever, and plunged into the water.  The shock of cold came almost as a relief from the eternity of weightlessness I felt as I fell.  A powerful feeling struck me, then, as I broke through the surface and wiped the water from my face; as I pulled in deep breaths of chilly air; as my eyes fell on the breathtakingly gorgeous landscape around me:This is life.  And it’s beautiful.

I moved to Japan from the United States over three months ago, and it feels at once like yesterday and forever ago.  So much about the change is overwhelming.  There’s almost too much to process when you take the plunge and immerse yourself into a completely different culture, surround yourself with perfect strangers, and fall into a whole new rhythm.  The lows are painfully present: Getting terribly, horribly lost on the daily.  Missing loved ones.  Feeling frustrated that you can barely read a damn thing in the stack of papers you’ve just received.  Sometimes even the smallest things in life feel like a constant struggle.  But for every challenge, there’s the chance to overcome.  For every low, there are just as many highs.  Adventures in the wilderness is a pretty solid high point.  But figuring out how to navigate an ATM by yourself?  It’s just as much–if not more of–a victory.

And I’m here.  People often ask me how it feels to achieve something I’d been hoping for for so long.  I’m extremely happy about realizing my goal, but at the same time I don’t think I outwardly seem as passionately overjoyed as people expect me to be.  It’s taken me so long to get here that the happiness I feel is more than just a bright–but fleeting–ecstatic burst.  It’s a deep, subtle feeling, but a real and solid one, nonetheless.  Years of dreaming, years of hoping, years of working hard.  Sweat and tears (literal and figurative) and the pain of feeling lost and directionless for so long have culminated in this.  I’ve jumped off a cliff and, finally having met the water, I feel joy as well as relief.  And now I can take a deep breath and float, admiring my surroundings.

There are days when I barely feel 6 miles outside Austin, much less 6000.  Days when the sun is out and the breeze is right, and I’m sitting reading a book and sipping on a sweetened iced coffee.  I’ll get a text that makes me smile, and for that small second home has come to find me in the middle of the Japanese countryside.

There are other days when home couldn’t seem farther away.  Days when I’m standing in a tsunami without an umbrella, when I miss him so terribly I can’t sleep, or when the intentions in my head won’t seem to make it past my lips in this language so different from my native tongue.

And there are different days altogether.  Days when I find myself bowing before I realize it, when I check Right-Left-Right when crossing the street, or when a word springs to mind in Awa-ben before the standard Japanese.  These are days when I feel the separate threads of my experience weaving together the colorful tapestry of my life.  The image that’s emerging is a woman, strong and beautiful and beautiful because she is strong.

This is my life.  And it’s beautiful.

————-

If we are lucky, maybe we learn that home is another thing.

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