The last day

About to board our final flight

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.

Serial experimentation

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.

Not wise

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.

14 Comments

  1. Wow. Has it been a year? It’s been fun following your adventures. Very curious to see what comes next.

    Had weird flashbacks this morning. to conversations we had over a decade ago now about OHIP and the Ontario medical system. An article about North York General made it to the top of my morning news feed, Hacker News: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20540670 — things you were saying so many years ago now. I can understand how working in that system would be maddening.

    Best of luck with the relocation. Don’t stop the updates!

    1. Thanks, Ian. It’s been too long since we’ve been able to sit down face to face for a long chat! I have such mixed feelings about that news story, but it doesn’t change the fact that I desperately want to find a way to use these skills to help people in a way that is both good for them and for me. Symbiosis is sustainable and the only arrangement I will accept at this point.

  2. I love this post more than I can say! I woke up thinking about the Poyner family and wondering how life was after re-entry. (There is a thread on Worldschoolers about this exact topic right now. You should really post a link to this.). Your insights are just brilliant and very similar to things we’ve already mused about once ours is over. It sounds like all of you have the exact wise (not saying “right”) attitude coming back. Love Lindsays’s “serial experimentation” mindset. Love being the “seeker”—and not pretending otherwise. And so impressed with the boys’ Shaka/hang loose willingness. I think you’ll be mining this adventure’s wisdom for years to come. Since we have started ours so differently (a combo of indulgent vacation and just moving to Hawaii), we are still waiting for adventure and profundity. But know that it can only be understood backward. Thanks for a great year of blog posts and hope to see some more from all of you! Aloha!

    1. Thank you for the wonderful, thoughtful comment, Angie. As busy as that travel day was, I knew that of all the days of our trip, it was essential to capture that one in writing; a pivot point on arc of our family’s journey together.

      I’m so grateful to you and our other readers who have encouraged this blog with their messages and comments. Sharing has made our experiences richer and the lessons more concrete. Thank you. And we wish your family all the good fortune and awesome adventures that you can comfortably handle as you start your gap year!

  3. Omg. I didn’t realize how simple I think until I read your stuff. I clearly lack introspection. However I have a firm grip of what I want and don’t want.

    I have been flexible. I keep my expectations low for myself and those I care about. That’s likely why everything usually feels right for us.

    I ended up in medicine. I could have done plenty of other careers. I still think you spending time with your family is really the answer.

    That’s all I did. I rarely travelled anywhere. I will never regret spending oodles of time with my kids while they were growing up.

    It is just work. I am grateful that when I work, I get to help folks in some small way.

    1. Your gentle suggestion that simply spending time with your kids was the best decision you made is not lost on me. It’s not about money, toys, or trips. Time together, low expectations (great point), and modeling a charitable attitude toward each other is what matters.

      Our nine year-old, Ben, had a bad day today. Felt like running away; even packed his backpack (he’s never done that before). We talked alone for a while in the basement about all the things he was upset about. I didn’t try to solve anything, just listened and told him I would be upset too. We hugged a lot. Then we went for a walk for an hour, just the two of us. With four kids, we rarely get one on one time. I don’t have a word to describe the value of this interaction. Medicine is a job. Fatherhood is my calling.

      A sincere thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dr. MB.

  4. Welcome home Poyners! And the adventure continues… I have so enjoyed readings your posts over the past year (great song by the way!) which have been so open hearted, insightful, visually stunning and fun! Wonderful that everyone is on board with returning to Canada and experimenting with a different life style this time around – one that is always evolving 🙂 Enjoy it all!

  5. All the best in your newest adventure. I’ve enjoyed following your story, musings and insights. What an incredible thing you have done for your family. Since our family has been traveling for 10 months I can really appreciate your comments on thriving with less material items. We are down to two small bags per person and I wish we could get to just one! But that is a huge improvement over what we left behind in our 5 bedroom home to a three cabin catamaran to a back pack and roll aways. If your still thinking about a floating home, feel free to pick my brain. I’m glad we tried it, but realized we can see more for longer and travel lighter without it. All the best to you and I look forward to seeing more from you.

    1. Hi Leonard – everyone (including us) could get on board with the idea of having less stuff, but we needed to actually live it for a year to understand the difference – and we’re hooked. We often obtain things for the promise of opportunity (to look better, feel better, do something different), but most of it just empties our bank accounts and weighs us down. It’s hard work to resist the accumulation of stuff! Kudos to you guys for diving into a new lifestyle not once but twice!

  6. Great reflection(s). Followed you on and off over the year, fantastic, both the events and the writing. Understandably, the journey makes one ask more questions than one found answers. That’s why it was a journey, not a destination. Now that you are back, I would like to have a short email exchange if possible…. to ask one, possible two specific questions. My request was probably lost in the hub-hub of travel earlier this year. E-dress below. Many thanks – John(y)

  7. Welcome home!

    It seems like you departed on this epic journey just yesterday.
    I’ve have enjoyed and appreciated your insights and honesty throughout your adventures. Your stories have made me feel part of the journey. I wish you all a happy homecoming and and a gratifying future. It is my hope that we can get together to enjoy your adventures all over again. If you need help with ANYTHING as you settle back into the mundane routines of life, I’m just a phone call away.

    Mike

  8. Thanks for providing the soundtrack to the mental photo-journal-montage that ran in the background as I read, eagerly, about the last day.

    Having followed you on and on (no off for me) since you began, and living vicariously through your family, I want to extend thanks to you and Lindsay for the instructive reflection on the way that benefited so many of us.

    Having related to this and other vulnerable moments in the lives of your kids, I want to second that fatherhood truly seems to be your calling. It’s fitting you’ve given it the primacy it deserves as you left medicine, and now again as you explore how to return to it without letting it consume you. Those Poyner boys are going to be all right.

    Thanks for taking us along on the journey,

    CD

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