I don't know if it's the same for everyone, but things often have a way of not seeming 'real' to me until i'm staring over their edge, about to leap. So it is in the past two days. Saying goodbye to family, to the Collie dog i never spend enough time with, visiting my mother's grave on a snowy night - those moments made me feel every last centimeter about to separate me from the physical and mental places i call home.
It wasn't something i planned; it was coincidence to be on that road. I hadn't been to the cemetery since that morning last June when the earth was still fresh on the grave, so i turned off the state road and down a badly plowed side street, crossed the railroad tracks. A deer leapt away from the headlights; the meadow at Rainbow's End spread silent and white. No headstones punctuate the crystal blanket, so i trudged through the knee-deep powder until i came to the spot between the pine and cherry trees on the knoll, and stood there for a long time. I'm sure the soil fauna have done their work; little remains of her body now - but still the inner spaces she used to fill resonate with a sense of nearness. Still there is a lot of goodbye left to say.
Until college, i had never spent much time around my peers, and as a consequence, when i moved to campus, little identified me with them. My first short-term roommate was Wooseok, an outgoing Korean, and the day we met he introduced me to many other Asian students. In the coming weeks i met international students from the world over - Turkey, Azerbaijan, Ireland, Austria, Japan, and China, to name a few. And i felt something in common with them. (Later, i could put my finger on it: i felt like foreigner to mainstream America.) Yet something separated us; as open as i could be to embracing new cultures, they were the ones who were out on a limb. I could never become one of them by osmosis. They, only they, knew what it was like to step into a strange place and hear people speaking a strange language and three meals a day taste strange dining-hall food.
I have been mulling on this - what to call it? - this initiation. The rite that only begins with the price of the ticket. The rite of visa applications and pocket dictionaries. It isn't until i'm staring it in the face this thing becomes real. As i inch closer to the airport, closer to being borne through the nationless air, i can see everything that separated me from the internationals - and watch it evaporate.
Moments of Cultural Shock - Today's Edition
9 months ago