This past week I went back to the States to attend the weddings of some very dear friends. I have been thinking a lot in recent weeks about the impending closure of my time in Guatemala. I have less than three months left. It is a bit daunting and scary to think that my time here is already starting to wrap up. I, being the consummate overachiever that I am, haven’t nearly completed everything I set out to do. That’s not to say I haven’t made an impact on the program. I have, and there are even more things to come. But I now often find myself looking back thinking, “What more could I have done? What could I have done differently? How could my impact have been even deeper?” Certainly, the challenges in infrastructure in the developing world don’t do much to contribute to my ability to get things done. I am already looking forward to having dependable internet again.
But, what I’ve really been ruminating on is the future. I, by nature, am completely of two minds when it comes to thinking and planning for the future. First and foremost, I am a planner. For example, I am a saver. This is something that has always defined me. I opened up my first savings account, asking my parents to let me do so, when I was 7 or 8 years old. I saved my tooth fairy money for college. I don’t spend money that I don’t have, and I certainly don’t spend money I do have on fanciful things when I could be saving it for important future expenses (like graduate school, for example). Speaking of graduate school, I’m a planner when it comes to my professional aspirations. That’s not to say that I have always known what I want to “be when I grow up” or how to get there, but I’ve always been mindful of it and have done my best to take positions that would get me where I wanted to go, positions where I was gaining something more useful than just a paycheck. I feel more or less like my “business” is in order. I’ve always been attentive to that aspect of my life.Where I haven’t paid so much attention is my personal life. Growing up, I always felt like getting married and having babies was what people did. That sounds ridiculous. Let me rephrase a little – marriage and family was the option. Not one road you could choose in life if and/or when you decided to. To me, marriage was a cookie cutter formula. You met someone in school (high school was a distinct possibility for matedom), dated for a few years, got married somewhere in the vicinity of graduation (college or high school) and then got started straight away on the 2.4 kids and the white picket fence. That was it. Some of that was a very real product of the space and time I grew up in. The rest was the equally real product of my pushing back.
Why was I pushing back? Because I was scared. Really scared. I was scared because I sensed that that’s what everyone wanted and expected of me. I sensed so strongly, many times conflated in my head, that that’s what was expected of me precisely because I didn’t want to think about it. At all. I said didn’t want it. So, I boxed “it” (meaning marriage, a family, a mortgage, “The American Dream”) out in my mind as the terrifying place that thou shalt not go.
Traveling stirs my wanderlust, but living abroad has stirred my desire for “home.” I will always feel that home is where the heart is, and believe I can be happy just about anywhere with a few key ingredients. But, all of a sudden I’m thinking about – gasp! – settling down. I’m thinking about a partner, what his needs are and where we would both be able to find fulfillment. I’m thinking about the community I’ll have around me – who are the family, friends and neighbors that will be supporting me through the challenges ahead? I’m thinking about – double gasp! – schools. And real estate. Career-type organizations. I’m thinking about real-life, grown up, bona fide big kid stuff. And it’s not all that scary. Which is definitely scary.
I’m about to make a big confession. These two weddings were the first ones I attended since the age of puberty where I didn’t find myself judging the people getting hitched. All of a sudden, I get it. And that neighborhood thing actually sounds kind of pleasant (turns out, they actually don’t chain you down upon arrival). I didn’t have a traditional neighborhood growing up, we were pretty isolated, and so I think the thought of having people that close made me uneasy. But now it seems like a pretty nice prospect.
I remember hearing people talk of travelers as “getting it out of their system.” I always thought that sounded condescending. It seemed to me that they were just waiting for the inevitable moment when the wanderer would wake up and suddenly be done wandering, like they’d suddenly realize the error of their ways. Well, I’m definitely not done wandering, and I don’t think I’ll ever be, but I’m certainly starting to see the positive sides to staying put in one place for a while. Constantly starting over is hard. Trying to keep a community when they’re thousands of miles away is no small task. Having a foot in two worlds is exhausting, and not often done with great success.
Settling down, it turns out, was something I confused with settling. Now I get, after almost 30 years on this planet and fair bit of wandering, that this is definitely not the case. Sure, it happens that people let themselves settle for something that isn’t quite what they want, but on the whole settling down is a pretty great thing once you’re ready for it. I’m not yet, but I do like that I’m old enough to understand it now. Just don’t be surprised if I turn up in Asia next. I haven’t spent nearly enough time there yet.
This week I saw peace in finding some comfort in the future.
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