It took me weeks to remember how to eat. It’s weird the way you lose certain things when you get out of practice. The first day after I was back I knew I had to go grocery shopping, but for the life of me I couldn’t think of what to get. I knew that before my trip I cooked all the time and had plenty of go-to meals I could make. I just couldn’t remember what any of them were. I had a lot of Thai take-out that first month.
There was much to do when I got home, which was good because it kept me busy. I was back at work within a week, but thankfully my boss agreed to have me be part-time for a while until my personal life settled down and we built a new position for me in the company.
I gave my tent a thorough cleaning in the laundry room sink and hung it out to dry in the sun.
I slowly remembered what things I liked to make and eat, and I filled the pantry and fridge again.
I put away all of the clothes I had been traveling with, and started wearing shirts I hadn’t seen in months.
I found homes in my apartment for all of my little specialty items, like my 5 gallon bucket and the last of my citronella candle.
And for a while, I felt terrible.
I certainly couldn’t have explained it at the time, and I can only guess at it now. There hadn’t been anything life-changing on my trip, and I hadn’t expected there to be. I came home to friends and family that I loved, and a job that appreciated me. Life was just as good as it had been before, but I was walking around in a daze.
I generally kept my feelings to myself, since I wasn’t sure what they were. My boyfriend Rob knew of course, since as my roommate he was present for all those times I just felt awful and didn’t know why. One such night he asked me if I thought a walk might make me feel better, since it usually does. He said over the summer he had found a little spot not far from our apartment that had a great view of the city at night. I told him I wasn’t sure it would help, but I’d give it a try.
It was October. Summer was over, and the Seattle evenings were getting chilly again. It was a clear night though, and the air was fresh as always. When we got to the spot we sat down on a bench. We were looking over the water as it reflected the city lights. There was a dull roar from the bridge overhead. He was right. It was beautiful.
I tried to tell him why I was upset, which was hard since I didn’t know myself. I started rambling about society and expectations and housing and marriage and worst of all – the 40 hour work week. There had been so many things I took for granted as normal before. I guess in my time away I’d seen so many people go against the norm – including myself – that I couldn’t bear to think I’d still have to live under it my whole life. I couldn’t bear to think that everyone else was going to do so without even knowing there was another way.
The blogosphere is saturated with people trying to tell you to go on adventures and live your life and give up your day job and make money online. I know because they all sign up to follow my blog, probably in the hope that I’ll follow them back. I don’t though, because most of them are trying to sell that life to you. They’re trying to convince you that for as little as following their blog or as much as buying their book, you too can live a life of happiness.
But it’s a lie.
You don’t even need to do that.
Nothing life-altering happened to me on the road, and that is the idea that altered my life. There was nothing I did that is not entirely achievable by the vast majority of people. We convince ourselves such things are out of reach because it’s so much easier to not do anything at all. It’s easier to take on the hardships that we recognize – the hours of monotonous work, the unending mortgage, the debt, the drinking, the kids, the suits, the air conditioning. And ultimately all of that is no more or less work than climbing out of a canyon or confronting your enemies or spending hour after hour with only yourself for company. Settling down is just as hard as staying rootless. There are so many things to do and be out there, and we choose so few of them. When I got home I couldn’t stand the thought that I was still a part of that machine. I won’t work 9-5 forever, but 9-5 won’t end when I stop. Because everyone I meet will still be weighed down by the expectation that this is all there is, and I’ll spend my days being told I’m brave or I’m lucky or maybe they’ll say nothing and just give me that same suspicious smile.
It’s been a year since I left. The world spins on and so do I. I have dreams that I’m working towards, and I intend to reach them. And in those dreams I’m doing that which makes me happy and fills me with joy, and I am not burdened with anything I don’t absolutely adore. In those dreams I work only as much as I need to, and never because I have to. And in the most fantastic of those dreams, no one thinks it strange.
I felt much the same way as you describe when I returned from a year living and going to college in South America. Same friends, same family, but it felt like their whole lives had moved on without me, and mine had changed in a drastic way. I would try to explain, but people just couldn’t really understand. It was me grieving for a life that had ended. Even if there was another adventure coming, that one was finished. Whatever you do, continue working towards your dreams. 🙂