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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Strube

Hands in the Air Kinda Home

second to last morning in the Redlands

So I haven’t written much since I returned from China, and I blame the following multiple choice test:

WHY AREN’T YOU WRITING, JEN? (Circle all inner thoughts that apply) A. How can daily life in the US be half as exotic or interesting as stabbing acupuncture, blind man massages, and e-bike misadventures in the Redlands? B. Why would anyone read a travel blog about…. well, steady life? C. China is over and…so…. now what? (insert open abyss here) D. General whining

It’s not like I have received countless emails saying these things. At least not from anyone but myself. But I’ve had an interesting shift since my return from the East.

I’ve arrived back at “home” — and now home is the place that seems far away. It doesn’t fully fit, or I don’t fully fit.  It’s old and new all at once, like a piece of fabric that used to be my favorite outfit and now has been sown onto the patchwork quilt of my haphazardly strewn-together nomadic life. I’m trying to put the dress back on, but its now a bloody square on a blanket. And you can’t cover your whole body with a little square.

It all feels very naked.

Thankfully, I live on a California ranch where it’s not super cold yet. Either way, naked never really feels great.  OK, naked sometimes feels rather great, but exposed doesn’t.  It’s raw, vulnerable, and unsure, propped in between a shed of uncertainty and a lean-to of self-doubt.  I’m sure fear lives in the next door barn and the main farmhouse is full of unknowns. There are 600 acres around of open possibilities — land so expansive it can be paralyzing to take a first step into.

Perhaps I could wrap the patchwork blanket around me, one for every square of the places I’ve held as “home,” but you can’t live in a blanket. OK, actually you can. In fact, my ranch had a BBQ last Saturday night, and a man wearing a blanket stumbled in. It was more a poncho blanket than a quilt, but had the same wooly feel. His head was adorned with a pointy straw hat and the poncho ran down to his knees. His unshaven face matched the same grey tone as his bare feet. Corona in hand, he stumbled onto the property, wide smile, bright eyes.

“Who is that?” I asked the ranchlord.

“Oh, that’s Bill,” he replied with a grin. “That is Bill.” The ranchlord proceeded to tell me how Bill used to be a multi-millionaire, but has, over the last few years, succeeded in his goal to give it all away — as he didn’t care for the source the money came from — and also succeeded in his goal of near homelessness. “He will probably sleep here next to the BBQ fire tonight. You never know with Bill.”

So, that’s Bill. I guess you can wear a blanket, cover your nakedness, and make it your home. I’m not that skilled, however.

There’s a difference between naked exposure and general openness.  Exposure feels frightening to me, openness feels like options.  Exposure feels unacceptable. Open feels medal-worthy.

“Oh you are sooo open.” (insert multiple offers for home-baked cookies, high-end marriage proposals, shiny buttons, general awe and swarming fanfare)

“Oh, you are soo exposed.” (insert krinkled foreheads, people taking a step back from you, pinched noses and stares at the understep of one’s shoes for potential crap, tabloid headlines and a general malaise of scandaled embarrassment)

Am I lying?  Openness is esteemed. Exposure feels like… such a pity, bless her, she just can’t get it together.

It’s a weird paradox.

When living abroad on the open road, you are just that: Open. On a road. Waiting to be broadened. Living.

Or, should I say, on the open road it is easy to be just that.

When abroad, any common little occurrence can appear magical, noteworthy, worthy of immediate annotation or annoying blogging. Because each day guarantees an unexpected adventure, an unfamiliar occurrence, an unplanned annoyance, a cultural faux pas. You NEED others when living life this way, for mere survival. You embrace your instabilities, coddle your hygienic quirks.  You can be bizarre and overtly accepted.

In America…. hmmm… not so much.

Last night, I rewatched the movie The Way with Emelio Estevez, a story of 4 people who meet while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I won’t comment on the acting, but the storyline is brilliant. It reminded me of the space people enter when “walking into the unknown.” When nothing around you is familiar (whether walking a Spanish pilgrim path or living in the heart of China), it turns you inside out.  Your gut is now in public view. You wear your heart on your sleeve. You ask others for help, because alone, everyone is rather helpless. You sit down at a table with people you don’t know and strike up political conversations over local brews with people you would otherwise judge. You stay present because, if you don’t, the truck with the herd of cattle in the pick-up bed will run over your e-bike. You breathe because nothing is familiar, change becomes constant, and that becomes your normal.

But when you return home, and nothing around you seems familiar and change is constant, somehow you freeze up. Or I do. Openness turns to exposure. Freedom turns to fear.  Being turned inside out feels like the Universe is giving me a massage with high-grit sandpaper.  It’s just not the stable American way.

I’m still figuring it all out. Thank God for the Greeks, who often rise to the occasion of pivotal life moments. The handsome Heraclitus himself once wrote, “No man steps in the same river twice.  For it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”  I’m not a man, but I’m with you Mr. Clitus.  RETURNING home and MOVING forward seem like two separate directions, but at least the Greeks told me there’s a river. And river means movement. I will keep moving, walking, hands in the air, open or exposed  – however you view it, because I still have two feet, two arms, a pumping heart, and a promise that all things work together for the good. Really, what else do I need?

(OK, lots of things, but for now, I’ll be grateful. Because that’s what started this whole journey anyway 😉

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