Monday, December 12, 2011

To a Different World...

It's Monday evening. Right now, it seems like I have a hundred separate responsibilities that I'm juggling: Essays to edit, tests to grade, debates and presentations to tally, grades to update, recommendation letters to write, a DBQ to put together, a lesson to prepare just in case presentations don't go the full-time tomorrow, meetings to attend, a cold to recover from, Seniors to advise for comps, charity concert practice to supervise, and probably other things I can't remember right now. Strangely enough, I thrive on being busy. The point I'm at right now is approaching the exchange zone where busy-ness ends and stress begins, but I knew there would be the occasional week of stress going into this line of work. It's exhausting (and obviously physically taxing, as my current cold suggests), but it doesn't faze me... much, anyway.

On Saturday evening, I'll settle down for the night in a bed long unused several thousand miles away. Though I'll have worked feverishly all week, the stress and myriad responsibilities I mentioned above will seem distant; otherworldly. I'll feel as though I stepped into an alternate reality; one where I am primarily a son and a brother, and not a teacher. When friends and family ask, I'll talk about the events of the last four months as if they were ancient history or somehow detached, as if it were someone else who lived them. Nobody will call me Mr. Gibson. I'll order my coffee in English. I will not be greeted with "いらっしゃいませ!" when I enter a store to do my Christmas shopping. There will be very tall, very blond, very white people everywhere. I won't have meetings. I won't have recommendation letters to write. I won't have the constant feeling that there's something I need to do. I'll feel out of my element.

This isn't to say I won't relax--I am very much looking forward to catching up on rest. I'll cherish the chance to reflect on how the semester went with some objective distance. I'll appreciate the opportunity to regroup, and begin to plan for the semester ahead. I'll treasure the moments spent with family and friends. Yet, I am not sure if I'll feel completely at ease. This--what I'm feeling right now, even with the telltale signs of stress and pressure... this is life. Things are hectic, but not overwhelming. The routine, the responsibilities, the list of things to do... it all feels natural, normal. Ordering コーヒー feels normal. "いらっしゃいませ!"--normal. Being the only アメリカ人 most places I go--normal.

Earlier today, I read a reflection written by one of my former JAM leaders, who is finishing up his first semester of college in the states. He described the feeling of straddling two very different, seemingly disconnected worlds. I can relate, but with one key exception: the world I'll inhabit in the states is not so much an alternate world; when I return to Lynden, I feel as though I am stepping into my past; a place that once fit, but now feels strangely ill-fitting (though still a part of who I am and a place I care about).

So--my challenge to myself as I prepare for several weeks of vacation on the other side of the ocean: to honor my past and live in the present wherever I am; to savor every moment of relaxation; to make the most of my time with family and friends; to not leave my head, heart and identity on this side of the ocean.

I make the leap across the pond on Saturday. Till then, I've got lots to do!

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