For all those who are wondering, I have made it back to China and am getting ready to begin my second year of teaching. We have three new teachers in Xiaogan, so part of my role right now is to prepare them for living here. I’m enjoying playing tour guide and food expert, while it lasts. I expect that within a month or two they won’t need me so much.
I meant to write a post while I was in the States this summer, but I couldn’t get my thoughts together until the day before I left. So, even thought this comes a little late, here is a little share of something I’ve been musing about all summer:
People say that when we travel we should expect change. We are told to prepare ourselves for the reality that home will not feel the same when we return. We are also counseled by countless well-meaning friends, psychologists, spiritual leaders, and novelists to recognize that it is not in fact the traveler’s home, but the traveler herself who has changed. Home feels different because we are different. With all due respect to those well-meaning figures, I think that philosophy only tell us half the story, at best.
For one thing, it creates a high horse for the traveler. She rides back into town on this steed, changed, full of worldly experiences, looking down with pity on all those who haven’t changed a bit. Perhaps, the traveler mourns the gap that now exists between she and them. “How can I be here, for I now belong to the world?”
For another, this idea cheapens and discredits the experience and the reasoning of those who choose to stay. How naive of us to equate the physical with the spiritual or the socio-emotional. We act as if, without geographical movement, we are left with stagnation. We forget that without a place to stay, without healthy roots, a tree cannot grow. Nor can it flower, produce fruit and seeds, and rest dormant in the winter. We are conditioned to expect that those who travel will change, but not to expect and embrace the change in the lives of the rooted.
During this summer, I reconnected with a number of my friends and family who are choosing, for various reasons, to stay where they are. These people have changed and grown so much in this year alone. They are experiencing new relationships, occupations, roles, life lessons, and spiritual growth. They embody the reality that change is a good and healthy part of everyone’s life.
In many ways, my greatest sadness concerning my life as a traveler is the reality that I will miss things. My “yes” to experiencing and witnessing the growth in my students’ lives, naturally implies a “no” to being able to witness the growth in the lives of the people I know back home. This however is my hope and my prayer for all the people I have recently said goodbye to: May you grow and change as you were made to do; may you journey to new depths even as you remain where you are; and may I rejoice in this with you from afar.