I came to China on August 26, 2008. Before then, I took an inventory of what I’d packed.
Clothes: 7 pairs of jeans, 14 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of shoes, 9 pairs of underwear, 11 shirts total, and 1 pair of glasses, no spare, no contacts.
Toiletries: comb, brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, shaving cream, razor, body wash, and shampoo/conditioner.
Movies: Aliens, Dumb & Dumber, Pulp Fiction, The Simpsons Season 5
Books: Already read—The Alchemist, Blood Meridian, Fight Club, Ender’s Game, Man’s Search for Meaning. Unread– The War of Art, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Genghis Khan: The Making of the Modern World
Electronics: Laptop, iPod, camera
Miscellaneous: highlighter, pen, thumb drive, Learn Chinese CD
That was August 2008. It’s now July 2010. Tomorrow, I will be in America, for a visit. What am I taking? I won’t try to take inventory this time. I’ve acquired stuff, I’ve lost stuff, I’ve thrown stuff away, and I will be taking stuff that I no longer need and bringing more back.
Do you pack enough to get by or what makes you feel at home? You leave home, but you take home with you. God knows I tried to when I first came here; if I could have brought more, I would have. Believe me.
But what of home now? It’s been nearly two years. You were single then, you’re married now. You were 22 then, you’re close to 25 now. You didn’t know what you wanted to do then, now…
You have a wife.
Your wife. Jesus. How did that happen? Where did that come from? Of all the predictions you made coming in, where in the hell was this hiding? To dwell on the enormity of your decision. The lives changed, the duty you have taken on. All on your shoulders. You cannot fully understand, but you do your best.
So you’re leaving again? After eleven moves as a kid and a semester abroad, plus these last two years, you’re well accustomed to leaving everything behind for awhile. Is it easy? It’s not. But that’s okay. I don’t think it’s easy for anybody. You stay somewhere long enough, it becomes home, you know that. Then you go and it becomes stranger and stranger to you, until the home you had is home only now somewhere, somewhere, out where that inner gaze shines back over the path you walk. The people you were.
The friends you had.
You have friends there. You will see each other. What will be your common ground? Your last year of college you had it. But now they’re working. Or in graduate school. Starting lives twenty years in the planning.
You were homesick, but what were you homesick for? The past, you recognized the good parts, but instead of stopping there, you allow the good aspects to swarm over and consume reality, and as a result, you find yourself longing for times that were nowhere near as great.
When you left, your sister hugged you. Told you she loved you. She appeared ready to cry, but she held back. You almost did, but I know, I know, you have this well-honed strategy of making nervous comment to conceal your feelings.
Well what about tomorrow? I think you’ll be fresh out of comments then. As you stepped out the door two years ago, you looked back to her. You smiled. You waved.
The day is coming. You cannot stop it. You’re reentering that world a person far different than when you left it. See them as you knew them, then see them as they are now. Accept them. Because they will see you.
As you are now.
As the stranger standing before them.
And when you leave, you know what will happen. She will cry. Yes, she will. But what will you do? Will you cry? I don’t think you will. No, I don’t think so. Because perhaps now you’ve come to understand something.
Friends. Strangers. Dying memories, you know that home is with the people you love, no matter how much you pack. You understand that.
At long last.