Returning to the Familiar: A Quick Trip to the USA
As I write this post, I am on my plane back to Porto, Portugal. I am, surprisingly, alone. Something that I rarely experience in my current life.
I, Leslie, flew back to the USA for 10 long (or short, depending on who you are asking!) days to see family, friends and attend BYU Education Week. This has been a tradition for many years and one that I figured I would have to miss this year. However, after some time, Chris convinced me to go. I was thrilled to go re-charge the mom batteries and see some so many people I love. Can we just do a quick shoutout to Chris?! I mean, really, how many men do you know that would be solo-parent to five young children in a foreign country while still working?! He’s amazing.
So what was it like? This was the first time I have stepped onto US soil in the year 2019. In fact, we left the USA at the very beginning of December 2018, with no plans to go back in our foreseeable future. It’s a really weird feeling to leave your home country with no plans to return. It takes a lot of courage and grit to have only foreign cultures and experiences in your future. They are both exhilarating and exhausting in a way you wouldn’t expect.
Chris and I were both nervous. What would it be like? Would the USA feel like home? Specifically Denver and Utah, both of which were the last homes we knew and the top contenders for a USA home. Chris even had a few panic attacks that I might go back, see my friends, and let him know I wasn’t going to come back to Europe! This is TOTALLY unfounded and ridiculous to me, as I would never be home without him and the kids, but it was a concern for him nonetheless.
The first thing I noticed, subconsciously at first, was on the plane form Porto to Newark. I heard some people talking in English with an American Accent. I hadn’t heard this in months! I literally whipped my head around to hear what was so familiar sounding. I imagine this would be true of a visitor to the USA who suddenly heard their native tongue. I was both surprised at how it had surprised me and simultaneously felt a wave of comfort come over me. I was a bit nervous to do this international trip alone, but in that moment I knew it would not be hard. I was going somewhere where things would be familiar for the first time in over a year.
Arriving in the USA was so easy! I knew where to go without even reading all the signs. At customs, I breezed by the lines with my Global Entry (something I highly encourage any fellow travelers from the USA to secure) and went to find some food and my next gate. I was in a state of shock, really, as I smelt, heard and saw things that were innately familiar to me. It all felt, well, so easy.
This feeling continued as I went on to Denver and rode home with my mom. It was all so familiar and yet felt quite different at the same time. No longer was I coming back to my home, but it was not something new to me either. I tried to breath deep and just be patient with myself. After all, I was totally exhausted.
Thanks to jet lag, I was up early the next morning, something I am NOT accustomed to. I got up, took a jog and visited some old sites to see what kind of emotions I could stir up. I jogged by our old house where I brought home three of our five babies and thought we might live forever. I jogged by old friend’s houses, the hill I first did interval sprints on, the pool that held so many memories of my childhood and my parenthood.
The state of shock seemed to continue. No longer did I have the deep longing that I once had for these places. When we first moved to Utah, I longed to get back to Colorado. Any time I visited it was both painful and soothing.
In truth, one of the biggest reasons I wanted to go on this world adventure and agreed to do so was for this reason: I wanted to avoid the pain of moving again. I wanted Chris to be sure where his forever was (since I was pretty sure mine was in Colorado!). The process of having to leave something I thought was permanent was extremely painful for me.
Yet, now that I can look back, I see God’s hand in all things. I see that I would NEVER have decided to travel full-time had I never left Denver. It was just too comfortable for me. That isn’t a bad thing, but when I think of all the growth I’ve seen in myself and my family, the memories we now have, the experiences and wisdom we’ve gained, I am so grateful.
We tend to be grateful for the things that make us stronger and better, even when they are painful in the process. It was shocking to be in a place so dear to me and yet so devoid of that old longing.
As much as it pains me and my loved ones to hear, I no longer felt like it was home. It felt like another stop on our trip. A beautiful place to appreciate and explore. Even writing this it feels kind of surreal.
I genuinely thought this world adventure would lead us back to Colorado. It still may. Either way, I am grateful to be, for the first time in my life, truly and totally open to God’s plan for where we should live. God could throw a dart at the proverbial world dart board and tell me to go. I might have a moment’s hesitation for some locations, but I’d go. I’ve learned enough to go and know that we will be very, very happy. Happiness comes from within. In our journeys around the world, we have found that happiness. It no longer depends as much on outside influence as it depends on love from within.
As much as I want to preach that anyone can “change their life and find their new one” by traveling the world full-time, I don’t ever feel quite comfortable with that. The truth is, you don’t need to go anywhere. We, the 7 Wayfinders, focus much of our platforms on travel because that is what we are doing. Yet, the real change comes from within. What we really did was remove all the clutter of life and broke our lives down to the raw building blocks. We are trying to decide which blocks can stay and which need to go. We are cautious to bring in new blocks, especially those that will tether us back to “things” or “must-do’s”. It will be and always has been a delicate balance.
Bottom line: I LOVED seeing those I love and I am THRILLED to return to Portugal. My heart is there with Chris and five little beings I get to call my children. I am less worried about the future and just happy to be in the present.
What else did I love about being back in the USA? Probably a few things you are taking for granted (as I once did!):
Paper towels in the bathroom! So far, this has been a USA thing for sure. I haven’t dried my hands on a paper towel in a really long time. It is either blow dryers or wiping on your pants :) . Now, I see it as a little wasteful, honestly. That’s a lot of paper.
Napkins. Another thing that is not as universal as you think, especially in Asia.
Target. Do you have any idea the luxury it is to have a store like this? Where variety and plenty abound SO much? Where you can literally have an entire shelf of different kinds of greek yogurt? As far as I’ve seen, the rest of the world doesn’t live with nearly the variety and plentifulness we take for granted in the USA. I spent a solid 2.5 hours there and just marveled. I also brought back some serious luggage weight full of fun treats!
Kindness of strangers as well as the contention. Chris and I get the saying a lot as we travel, “Of course you are American, you are so friendly!”. It’s true, especially for Americans from the west, that we are pretty friendly. It took me off guard to jog down the walking path and have EVERYONE smile or greet me first. This has been what I’ve done for months. Many times, I wouldn’t even get a response.
The flip side of this is the petty contention. The grumbling about the TSA line. The hurtful comments murmured under the breath. The road rage. Maybe it’s due to a language barrier, but we haven’t seen contention like the US manages to produce in any other country so far. (Granted, we haven’t gone to any war-torn or known political hotbeds either). Overall, we’ve seen very little contention. We even had a taxi driver in Taipei cut off a fellow taxi driver and roll down his window to sincerely apologize. Wow.
I know there are other things, but these are the ones that struck me in my few days. I am a little sad to leave the USA again for one more big reason: I run into people ALL the time that wish they could live in the USA. Or perhaps immigrated to the USA many years ago. I count my blessing every time we look up a new visa rule, or go through customs, that the passport I hold is from the USA. It really is a blessing to have our citizenship in this special country! Hopefully we can all remember that more often.