You’ve thought of this moment. Some days it seemed it would never come, but then it came hurtling at you. The day you would fly home. In the time you spent abroad, you knew this day would come, but it came sooner than you were ready.
And in the midst of your excitement to drink a Pumpkin Spice Latté or sleep in your air conditioned room or eat white queso, there’s a bit of despair in your heart. Because you know that even though you missed home, it will never be the same. There’s a piece of your heart that’s broken off in the country that became your home for a short time. And it’s been replaced by dusty feet, echoing cathedrals, blackened smiles, fish markets, or sweat-soaked tshirts.
You are ruined, my dear. You have seen the other side. You have lived a life you saw before only in pictures from the comfort of your normal life. You have been jolted into a realization that not everyone believes the way you do. Not everyone values the same things you do. And some things that seemed normal to you before are under your skin now, itching you constantly.
You too quickly come to understand that no one in your life quite understands what has happened to you. You have undergone a baptism by fire. You have communicated with people without speaking their language. You have formed friendships with people so unlike you, maybe you thought you were supposed to hate each other. The friends you left behind will quickly change topics when you try to share these pieces of your heart with them. Because they don’t have a context to understand. Their worlds haven’t been shaken like yours has.
And so you tuck these experiences into your heart. They will give you a new lens through which to see the world. No one in your old world has the same lens. No one can understand the way you see things now. You can’t expect them to.
And you will be lonely. Even those who love you the deepest won’t want to look at too many pictures or hear too many stories. And even if they do, how do you describe the smell of the croissants baking in the morning or the fish stand at the market or the sea at night or the sweet dirt smell of the unwashed children who stroked your hair? How do you describe the feeling of cobblestone or sand under your feet, making you distrust your own footsteps? How can you possibly share the moments that overwhelmed your heart to the point where you thought it might burst? No, this road you must walk alone.
In our society of sharing everything on social media, we forget how to store things in our hearts, quietly. We forget what it’s like to have life-changing moments that can never be shared – not with a picture or a status update. We forget that the biggest things are ours alone.
I wish we could impart these things to those who love us like The Giver. Just put our hands on them and make them feel the sun, the wind, let them see the colors and the faces we miss. Let them share in the most difficult days, the days we couldn’t do the simplest of tasks. Let them share in the most simple joys, when we successfully ordered what we wanted or found a kindred spirit in a stranger of a different culture.
So we must take all these things, bundle them into our hearts, and share what we can. We must show grace to those who have not had their world views challenged, who haven’t gotten to peek at the world from another culture’s eyes. We must not try to teach others all we have learned, and not hold it against them that they didn’t go with our hearts when we left. We must share what we can, when we can, but appreciate home for what it is. And we must be grateful – so very grateful – for the thousand lives we got to live while those we love missed us so.