This is an actual conversation, more or less, from a month or so ago:
Michael: Sometimes I get this really funny feeling lately. Kind of a tingling sensation. My stomach feels all light. Usually I’m listening to music. Sometimes not.
Sara: Kind of like your whole body is buzzing, right?
Michael: Yeah! That’s just what I mean. And I can’t stop smiling. Everything feels right for a moment.
Sara: I think that means we’re happy here.
We decided to test that theory last month, in a way, by flying back to Seattle for a few weeks to visit with family and friends we haven’t seen in over two years.
It was, for lack of a better description, a total mindfuck.
We had no idea what to expect. Would everyone have hundreds more grey hairs just like us? Surely all the girls’ friends would be six feet tall by now? Would we weep and kiss the ground when our feet first touched American soil? Would the first pint of Ben & Jerry’s taste as good as the sixth? Would my first trip to Target feel like entering Disneyland?
No, it would not.
It would feel like we just left yesterday. It would feel like everything and everybody was exactly the same. The kids were all themselves, just a few inches taller. Everybody was just like we had remembered, only much more, somehow. We picked up right back into conversations with friends it felt like we’d started the week before. And it was absolutely wonderful to hug tight all the people we yearned to hug but couldn’t over the past two years. We hugged people that we knew we very well might never hug again and tried not to think about that too hard.
Things that we hoped would be different, weren’t.
We didn’t talk about our trip much. We were asked about how the girls’ liked their new schools, how was Michael’s job. Were we going to buy a house soon? What did we like about New Zealand? Easy questions all, except for that last one. They love it, good, no. How much time do you have?
The United States was just as we remembered too: big, beautiful, friendly, shiny, fearful, a bit surly, filled to the brim with every possible thing you could think of to buy. I fought the old overwhelming urge to fill my cart with sparkly new things I knew well I didn’t need in Target. Still, in Costco, I stood blinking, gobsmacked at the towers of stuff surrounding me. I had to take a photo with my phone. My friend at the checkout with me, possibly embarrassed, explained, “She’s from New Zealand.”
It took a stranger to really put things in perspective. When we arrived in Seattle, we took the new light-rail train from the airport to downtown. An African-American woman was sitting across from me with her teenaged son. She smiled at our girls and asked how old they were. I told her and then we started chatting about where we were from. She had lived in Seattle for nearly 30 years but was originally from North Carolina. Maybe she’ll go back there one day she said. She asked me when the girls would start the new school year. I waffled internally for a few seconds. How do I explain that they are actually on winter break in New Zealand? I finally decided that since she asked…. her eyes flew wide in shock when I told her we lived in New Zealand now but were from Seattle and they were on school break. “That’s somethin’,” was all she could say. Just then, her stop had arrived and she and her son departed the train. It had seemed like a relatively quick plane ride back to where we came from but I felt the distance then.
We knew our journey had changed us, but we still won’t fully know how for years I think. We’d hoped that visiting our roots, our family and friends and homewaters would shed some light on this. But mostly it just highlighted how important they are and how much we love them. And they, us.
Sailing across the Pacific, it was like we’d passed through this incredible portal of overwhelming joy, terror, exhaustion, love. We’ve connected with so many different kinds of people from all walks of life. Each one, just like us. We’d experienced all that it means to be human on planet Earth in such a short time and were looking back on our old lives through this window. But the old haze of familiarity isn’t there anymore and we saw people and places for who they really are, for the better, mostly. With fresh eyes, we treasure them more than ever. We found the connections with our loved ones far stronger not despite, but possibly because of the distance.
A few weeks later, as our plane touched down in Auckland, there it was again. The fluttering and buzzing and the feeling that all is right in our world. Our biggest question had been answered, indeed. Happy to be home, back aboard Wondertime.