The Test

May 16, 2014

In some respects, being back in the US is no different than another experience abroad. I have to learn how to speak to the locals, how to get around, and how to deal with making a living and finding the happy. It has everything I want when it comes to travel, but for some reason, I just don’t experience life at home as an adventure, even when it’s not really home.

This is one of the tests I face. Over the last eight years, it’s become more comfortable for me to say goodbye, burn bridges, and hop a plane to distant shores. The real challenge, what truly makes me uneasy, is just sticking around long enough to see what happens. I’ve already gained some understanding of what it means to be a US citizen:

– Bills and taxes drain happy paychecks
– Traffic is always a nightmare
– Finding a decent place to live is no small feat
– Connecting with friends and potential lovers is harder still

One of the reasons I’ve had so much trouble with the last point is, ironically, the same reason many foreigners find Americans so open: smalltalk. Don’t get me wrong, when time is one my side and the mood strikes, I can chat away with the best of them about nothing in particular, but most days, I just don’t see the point in expending that kind of energy on complete pablum. Even children catch on early, observing adults saying “How are you?” and “I’m fine” when that’s clearly not the truth. If I though for one moment some stranger genuinely wanted to know my state of mind, I would tell him. So far, however, all I see are superficial attempts to stave off loneliness. You wouldn’t get into a relationship with someone just because you’re lonely, so why would you try to connect with someone with whom you have no interest?

It’s very cynical on my part, I know. Part of me likes this approach, as it keeps my mind focused on serious topics and doesn’t allow me to lower myself to the level of gossipers. But therein lies the problem: I’m not better than them. I need people. I need those connections, and they’re not going to be formed by sharing a common language in a foreign country. Exponential possibilities exist for friends and lovers, and learning to recognize that we’re all human beings trying to find these connections should make all of us pause when we’re talking to strangers from all walks of life: baristas, bus drivers, businessmen on lunch, homeless in the park. I forget this often, as we all do with our schedules to keep and inconveniences with which we don’t want to deal. As I said, sticking around is the answer as much as it is the problem. For though I’m able to live abroad and develop friendships, that’s not what the majority of my life is going to be like. By becoming recognized as a member of a community and accepting every encounter as an opportunity to learn something new, or find another connection, will I start to understand what I’ve been missing, and resist leaving.

My test for staying in the US won’t be determined by the job I take, how much money I make, where I live, or how well fed I am. Rather, the people I meet, the relationships I form should compel me to stay and see what happens. If I can learn to make these connections once again….

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