The People You Leave Behind
*Sunset photo courtesy of peasap, Flickr Creative Commons
When you step off into the great unknown and leave life as you know it behind, some funny things happen. For awhile, your new life is fresh and exciting. But eventually, everything—every moment that has led up to the present point in time, catches up with you. You never outrun yourself. You’ll have to face your monsters again, possibly while alone on a deserted island, or stranded in a foreign hospital bed. You are also never too far removed from the people you left in your “old life.” Carrying them with you into this new world, you begin to view them in a different light. Maybe you think about things you could have done better in certain relationships. At other times, you realize how much some people held you back, or how others were full of inspiration. Your loved ones become dearer in your mind while you sit in a crowded night market thousands of miles away, wondering what they’re doing as you try to understand the foreign language of a thousand strange voices interrupting your reverie.
Then the adjustments come. Your loved ones mean more to you than ever before, but new people make their debuts on the pages of your life story. Individuals with pasts so different from your own suddenly appear from far-flung corners of the earth, like colorful characters from an adventure book you read as a child. These people teach you things about the world and about yourself. Sometimes, a little bit of ethnocentrism seeps in as you struggle to understand new viewpoints and cultures. Other moments you feel ashamed for taking so much for granted…embarrassed for having lived in a bubble for so long. Together, you and your new friends break the chains of stereotypes that bind so many in ignorance. Your world expands. So does your heart.
When it’s time to move again, ever marching towards the next chapter, some funny things begin to happen. Carrying all you’ve experienced, you see the world in a different light. You find yourself sitting behind a computer, trapped in a cubicle, wondering what your friends across the globe are doing as you’re trying to live and understand the American Dream. Which suddenly seems like a foreign language. And you remember with fondness the people you left behind.
This post is dedicated to:
Miky—from New Delhi, one of the most gentlemanly men in the world. Thanks for being a great friend.
My students—for showing me I had the strength to succeed and for believing in me like I believed in them.
Joe—for showing me kindness and reminding me of the importance of family.
Rachel—my first local friend in Taiwan. Thanks for leading me around those first few months and putting up with my awful attempts at Chinese.
Those Taiwanese girls at the hospital—for taking the time to stop by and attempting to chat with the plague-ridden, Chinese-challenged foreigner.
Stephen and Rachel—for giving me my “American” fix when needed and helping me through some embarrassing moments.
The lovely people I met in the Philippines—for teaching me much about myself and all the things I take for granted.
There are many more, and you are not forgotten.