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December 16, 2005

Home, Hope, and the Holidays

Suddenly, the end has arrived. Even with the past two weeks to spend in reflection (and an entire year of gradual anticipation!), this day has still somehow managed to catch me by surprise. In only a few hours, I will be heading for the Bangkok airport to begin the long journey home. While at times words have come easily on this journey, I now find myself with not a whole lot to say.

Maybe I'll begin with a few things that I'm looking forward to. The first, without a doubt, is the experience of flying. Many of my friends think I'm crazy, but I get pathetically excited about everything having to do with air travel. Starting with the often incomprehendable task of finding the best deal on tickets, to the moment of collecting my bags and leaving the airport... it's all a thrilling and fascinating experience. And the longer the flight the better. Extra hours only mean more time to look out the window, watch the cool little map of the flight's current location, eat a few more of the carefully packaged airline meals, and a chance to accumulate those precious extra frequent flier miles. I know this is all a bit strange. Sometimes it has led me to believe that I should have studied to become a pilot. Or at the very least done a few stints as a baggage handler down in Philly. Yeah, we'll have to see about that.

Perhaps part of this fascination with air travel is the way that it brings the world together. Watching the arrival/departure board at a major international airport, it doesn't take long to arrive at the conclusion that the world really is a small place. In less than a day's time, one can be across the globe, suddenly transported to a completely different context. On the plane in one country/culture/climate; off the plane in a completely different one. In a way, airports represent a kind of "third-culture", a unique environment where people from all corners of the globe come together and rub shoulders with each other. I like those kinds of places.

Enough about airplanes and airports. Another thing that gives me great joy is looking ahead to spending time with family and friends. Fourteen months is a long time to be away from the people that you care about. And although I have been blessed to have many opportunities to communicate with these people via email during my time away, I'm ready to be finished with that for awhile. Letters and emails are great, but they simply don't compare to the beauty of spending time being physically present with another person or group of people. In the past year, I have continually been amazed by the growth and interest that people have expressed for this website. Yet I have also learned quickly of its limitations. Without a doubt, it doesn't come close to the importance and necessity of personal, face-to-face conversation and dialogue.

Bangkok, in my mind, is the epitome of budget backpacker travel. The flashing neon signs, the ridiculous "just to prove I was there" little souvenirs, and the dirt-cheap guesthouses full of spaced out travelers... there is a shallowness here that is repulsive. Yet it is a neccesary evil for anyone heading into or out of Southeast Asia. So that's why I'm here. As I wondered the infamous Khao San strip last night, my thoughts drifted to the subject of community. Yes, it may be a cliche word in many respects, but at this moment in time I find it profoundly exciting. I guess sometimes it just takes going away to see these things.

Finally, I'm excited to get involved in things that I believe are important. Being a part of an honest and open-minded community, like I mentioned earlier, is certainly one of those things. But so is education, the work of the church, cross-cultural understanding, inter-faith dialogue, and so many other things. There are times to withdrawl and be contemplative (as I have done in the past two weeks), but there is also a time to engage and get involved. For many months during this trip, the prospect of "engaging" with my home community and sharing my experiences brought more fear than it did excitement. But somehow in recent weeks I have turned that corner, and begun to find hope and potential fulfillment in those areas. There is no life without hope, and what better time to discover this concept than during the holidays.

Although this is my final entry from abroad, I hope to write a few more once I've settled in back home. And Dave and I are also plannaing a few changes to the site, as well as other ways to expand the vision of Viva el Viaje. But that will all come in time... right now, it's time to enjoy the Christmas season. I will look forward to seeing many of you soon, and talking more in person. Your support, encouragement, and prayers have meant much more than I'm sure you realize. Thank you.

As I post this, I'm off to the airport. Somehow the cheapest ticket I found was with Malaysia Airlines, an excellent company that also provided me an overnight stay at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur this evening. Then tomorrow morning the 23-hour flight flight to New York begins. Although a bit of a disappointment, I found out after buying the tickets that we would have a refuel stop in Stockhold, Sweden, meaning that we will not be flying to North America over the Pacific. So much for the "round-the-world" trip!! Oh well, it was close... :-)

I didn't write much here about my activities of the last two weeks. You can get the picture by checking out the Laos photo album, and reading the captions if you're interested.

Posted by Eric at December 16, 2005 12:58 AM