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December 22, 2005

Being, Back

A few months back, I was looking ahead to this time of coming home with apprehension, not quite sure what to expect, but feeling that it would be difficult. I must say now that my experience since flying into Los Angeles on December 2nd has gone fairly well thus far. I?ve spent a lot of my time relaxing, catching up with friends and family, and trying to be intentional about making a slow transition back into life in the United States while keeping a positive attitude.

Southern California

My flight from Bangkok to LA was fairly uneventful, except for a brief delay during the layover in Taipei, Taiwan. Before I knew it, I was back on American soil in the Los Angeles airport, tired from nearly two days without sleep, yet full of that honeymoon type of adrenaline for the final ?new country? of the trip. On the customs declarations form that you fill out before entering the US, there is a space to list the countries you have visited during your trip. I decided to fill the space by writing the last five or six, followed by a ???. The man at the counter questioned me about where I had gone and how long I had been away and upon hearing my answers, asked with amazed bewilderment, ?Is that all you brought back?? I replied that I liked to travel light. I guess most Americans bring more stuff than I do.

I spent my first week in the states in Pasadena, CA, spending my days getting over a 9 hour time difference, checking out Fuller Theological Seminary, and hanging out with my EMU friends Joel & Emiley Shenk and Alethia Bailey (traveled with us in Israel/Palestine, March 2005). We also went down to the Santa Monica Beach one evening at sunset and were blessed with an amazing array of colors falling into the Pacific Ocean. Another evening Alethia and I went to an art show in Venice which included a few of my uncle?s paintings. A different afternoon took a group of us hiking to the nearby San Gabriel Mountains rising from the back side of Pasadena.

I took my opportunity in the town of Pasadena to visit Fuller Theological Seminary, a place where a handful of good friends of mine who share similar interests with me are either currently studying or considering beginning masters? work in the future. I managed to find a time to meet with a variety of professors and academic advisors and a lot of these meetings helped me to better articulate what I am looking for in a graduate program. At this point in time, I can say that my interests lie in some combination of cross-cultural learning & education, peace and conflict studies, the American church?s role in international conflicts that have a religious component, and the Middle East region in general. I feel like my Masters degree will be a conglomeration of a lot of subjects that drive me to action and that as I study my specific focus will become clearer. I would like to get started next fall, but depending what happens this year, plans are always open to change?

Southern California was a perfect first stop in the US after a global journey. Landing on the ?left coast? of the country provided a lot of people who were open to talking about international issues and a general chilled out atmosphere that made me feel right at home. Having a few close friends around who understood my experience and a lot of others who were friendly but not overwhelmingly so seemed like the right ratio of familiar people for someone trying to ease into the culture shock of their own country.

The Plan of Surprise

My parents were under the impression for weeks that Alethia and I were driving across the United States and arriving home in Pennsylvania on Monday, December 19. This was the original plan, but transformed about a week before I flew to LA into a cheaper option of a $100 flight from LA to DC. I decided not to tell my parents of the change, but instead go to Virginia for the week and visit friends in the Harrisonburg area and then arrive home in PA on Friday to catch my parents not when they were expecting me, but rather when my sister Kristina was expected to come home from college for Christmas break.

The Capitol

We landed in Washington DC on Sunday evening and were picked up by Alethia?s Mom who has recently moved to Fairfax, VA. Alethia and I met two other friends from EMU, Rachel Miller (we visited her in Peru/Bolivia, December 2005) and Conrad Erb during the day on Monday and we had a nice lunch at an Indian restaurant in the city. We spent the rest of the day walking around the capitol building, the botanical gardens, and hanging out in a coffee shop.

Some of my initial perceptions of our nation?s capitol were ones of solitary power and unspoken sadness. Maybe it was the cold, grey skies that had been a foreign experience to me during the last few months, or maybe it was the way people seemed to be living their individual, forward-focused lives? something about it made it feel like the monuments were to an empire that could use a little hope. If you?ve read Eric?s recent journal about American military involvement around the world, you may empathize with me when I say that as I returned to the most militarily powerful place on earth, it felt like a sad homecoming.

Monday night we drove out to the I81/I66 split and met my sisters, Maria & Kristina, driven by Maria?s fianc?, Jesse, who managed to leap out of the car and beat my sisters to the first hug. We then started to drive south on the familiar I81 to Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Virginia

I?ve basically lived in Virginia for the majority of the last four years of my life that I was in the US, so returning once again felt like home. Many of my friends that graduated with me a few years ago are still in the area as well as others younger than me. I had a wonderful week popping into my professors? offices and surprising them as well as some amazing conversations with old friends over a cup of hot tea or coffee. It was good to see Lin & Janet Stutzman (Sailing Acts, April 2005) again, who are gearing up once again to lead a Middle East cross-cultural semester this spring.

Virginia is a quiet place in relation to many that I have traveled through during the last few months. It was a nice space to just spread out, know the area around me, and be able to fit right into after a long time away. The five days there went fast, but helped to stretch out my transition in coming back to Pennsylvania.

My sisters and I managed to keep the secret of my presence in the area from my parents to the best of our ability. It really seemed like a possibility that someone might pass on the word to them when they found out that I was in the ?burg. From what I know now, they suspected, but didn?t know for sure what was going on.

Pennsylvania

We borrowed a car that needed to be driven to PA, loaded up with Kristina, Alethia, Kurt Rosenberger (Eastern Europe Bike Trip, May-July 2005) and I and drove the remaining four hours to southeastern PA. We stopped about a quarter mile up the street from my house and took everything from the trunk and piled it into the back seat. Since Alethia and I were expected to be arriving home a few days later, we piled in the trunk and Kurt and Kristina sat up front.

We pulled into our driveway and Kurt and Kristina went inside to say hi to our parents while Alethia and I waited outside. They asked for some help to come and unload the bags from the car and my dad came outside first to bring some things in. When Kristina had come into the house without me, my parents gave up the hope that I might have also been with her, so when my Dad opened the trunk and saw me there, he screamed and yelled my name, ?DAVID!? I was ready with the camera and got it all on video. It?s on the site, and definitely worth checking out. Sorry Dad that I keep putting a plug in for this. Mom came out a few minutes later, looking a little pale and like she didn?t believe that I was back.

Since last Friday, I have been around the area, unpacking all the stuff I had sent home at various parts of the year, rediscovering how much stuff I still own, and trying to get my life organized enough to start from here.

Life from Now?

It has been a good transition so far and I am excited to be back. In many ways, coming home just feels like another stop on the larger journey and that I will never be done ?traveling? as many of the ideas behind the vision of this last year continue with me as I start whatever is next in my life. It would be very easy to be negative about the things that frustrate me about this country, but it seems obvious that this will do no good for the world. My hope now lies in implementing what this trip has shown me into action and devoting my life to working towards a better understanding of these issues in this country. Coming back has also shown me how much I have to learn about what is going on here, and the very least I can do is be aware of these changes and discover the needs wherever I might be in order to fill open niches.

I have been struggling to write this journal entry for the last few weeks. Each time I start, and then can?t quite finish. I suspect that I have been just a bit burned out on written digital communication, and when the alterative is a live conversation with a good old friend, it?s difficult to be inspired to express myself on a computer screen. I?ll probably be either in Pennsylvania or Virginia during the next several months, so if you?re in one of those places, hopefully we can connect sometime. I don?t own a car anymore, and really don?t want to for as long as I can possibly manage without one. The next few months will be an interesting time for me to begin to figure out what this experience has meant for my life both now and farther down the road.

Posted by Dave at December 22, 2005 02:51 PM



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