There is an entire continent (South America) that we have not posted about yet – we are a little behind, but those pieces are coming. In the meantime, even if it throws our little blog out of chronological order, I felt compelled to capture the thoughts and feelings of one day in particular. This post was written on the last day of our one year journey around the world as a family.
How does it feel on the very last day of a trip like this? Excitement to be returning to the familiar? Disappointment that the adventure is over? Anxiety that one might no longer belong in that place that was once “home”?
I’m starting to write this post from Gate B27 at Vancouver airport, my trusty red backpack leaning against my leg, waiting for the last flight of our voyage around the planet, the one that will take us back to where we started one year ago: Toronto.
I thought I’d feel . . . more than this; a clear and intense desire for something: rest, social connections, a home, maybe even more travel. Instead, I feel surprisingly normal. Relaxed – more or less. Just another day. There’s not a lot that I want that I don’t have. Traveling has been incredible, but it feels like a good time to stop. All the things we need to do to start over again in Canada will be fun and challenging in a different kind of way.
Part of me wants to go with this feeling, to hold on to this not-holding-on-to-anything. I feel unattached to any particular goal and it feels pretty good. I don’t need much and don’t want to be convinced that I do. I don’t need a car, a house, new clothes . . . and I don’t need more adventure either. Not right now. At this moment, the Poyner family occupies all six seats of row 27 – and it’s a perfect fit. There’s some money in the bank (still!), snacks in the backpack, and smiles on the boys’ faces as the Rocky Mountains zip by beneath us, a patch of Earth’s raw prehistoric skin.
When home is a foreign land
What lies in store for our little tribe? I’m hanging on to this surprising serenity because I’m expecting worse: the letdown, the homelessness, the reverse culture-shock. It will take us a while to buy a car, find a house, piece together a new life. We don’t regret selling it all before we left – it gave us the freedom we needed to make the decision to return and to be confident(ish) it was the right one. But now it’s time to rebuild. Are we ready for that?
Perhaps we’re wrong to be going home. Maybe we should be shopping for a sailboat rather than a house: a floating home to continue the adventure. It was my idea to go back, mainly because I didn’t want to close the door on medicine – but what if that doesn’t work out? Even if I enjoy emergency medicine again, maybe we will resent the Western world’s techno-opulent culture of ubiquitous screens and conspicuous consumption. Will we feel like visitors in our own culture? Maybe we don’t belong anywhere anymore.
And, yet, perhaps surprisingly, I’m okay with all that. It’s just another kind of uncertainty and we’ve been dealing with uncertainty of all varieties and intensities for twelve months: new places, people, languages, rules, food . . . only now the polarity is being reversed. We know the place; what we have less confidence in is our place in that place.
Lindsay has grown into this idea of going home. It took a bit of time, but now she’s looking forward to setting up a smaller house, reconnecting with friends and family, dusting off the spoons, spatulas and saucepans that she learned to use with such skill. But, still, she is adamant that this flight back to Toronto is no different from any other flight we’ve taken: It is the next step in our adventure. We might love the destination and settle down for a while – or we might not. She’s a wise girl. Nothing is permanent unless we make it so. Life is a series of experiments. The trick is to stay nimble rather than stuck, to open doors rather than close them.
As for the kids, they’ve been involved in our conversations and have surprised us with the depth of their insights and breadth of considerations. But, at the end of the day, the promise of bikes, Lego, and libraries is really all they need to be excited about this choice.
If I have one fear – and I do – it is that I have not grasped the full value of this year. I’ve learned things, but will they stick? I’ve touched on profound insights with the tips of my fingers, but have a firm grip on . . . nothing. I’ve started making a list of things I’ve learned this past year, but it feels inauthentic. It’s wisdom I wish I had, but never really internalized. Those people who display a firm grasp of deep truths and broad knowledge – I admire them, but I’m not one of them.
I guess I’m a “seeker” rather than a “knower”. And perhaps there is value in the seeking, if only to make us less sure of any “knowledge” we acquire along the way. I’ve grown to think that asking questions is more important than having answers. I have more questions than ever, and that feels right to me. What seems clear to us is that being open to exploration and experimentation is the path to follow.
Designing life lightly
We can hold onto a lifestyle just like we can hold on to opinions: too tightly, and too long. Big houses, new cars, exciting “new stuff” all the time – now we see the true cost of those luxuries: freedom. What we want is time to learn new skills, pursue new adventures, and sometimes, just to play. That autonomy requires our life to be simpler, cheaper, lighter. Perhaps the clarity of those shared family values is something we have learned. But I won’t lie – we need to remind ourselves constantly.
We return home now not because it is the answer, but as another question. How will this work? What can we do? Who will we meet? We’re excited about this phase of our family adventure, we’re excited to continue to share it with you, and, most importantly, we know that this is exactly what we want to be doing right now.
In the spirit of seizing the moment, while recognizing how hard it is do, I’ll leave you with a song by one of my favourite Canadian singer/songwriters, Donovan Woods.