Around the world in half a year

a sabbatical rest, day 209

When we return to Michigan from Seattle tomorrow, we will have flown 24,010 miles (38,640.35 km) since February, roughly the distance around the world. And we’ve also traveled by car, taxi, train, ferry, and bus.

So, I’m tired. I’m not complaining, mind you. Just describing a state of being. While we were overseas, we made new friends, ate new foods, and enjoyed new views, and since we have been back it’s been a whirlwind of seeing family and catching up: Englewood, FL, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle. So, as I write this, from a lake cottage on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound, I’m grateful for quiet mornings before the grandkids show up.

I’m grateful too for the world’s best travel companion, a remarkable and resilient woman who has embraced discovery and challenge as part of God’s plan for our life together. But rest is nice. And needed because travel is tiring for reasons we don’t often think about.

transitions take effort

I’ve been to Southeast Asia several times, mostly on 3-week cross-cultural trips with university students, so I don’t think we experience much “culture shock” coming home. When I return, I do still notice how much Westerners complain about things people in developing nations barely hope for, much less expect. I remember reading an article in the NYT about people being upset that Starbucks didn’t have their favorite flavorings after the lockdowns. But the whole “first-world-problem” thing is no longer disconcerting. Disappointing, perhaps. But not disconcerting.

What has been different this time, after five months in Nepal, is my sense of where I am. After a month, my body is here, but my head is still there. It was like that when we went too—a few weeks before it felt like we were really there, before we quit imagining or expecting things to be like they are here in the USA.

So transitions take energy, perhaps a function of the amount of time you expect to spend in a place. We are only here on the island for a week, but it took a day or two to settle in. This is one reason why a couple of days away is rarely satisfying; there is no time to settle in or disengage.

The transition actually begins before you get to the place you are going, as you anticipate, both consciously and unconsciously, the differences you must manage. And the greater the differences (think culture and climate), the more time and energy it takes. This Is one reason people travel to another country and spend the whole time in an all-inclusive resort, where the only thing that has changed is the menu, if that.

routines ground us

One difference that confounds and, frankly, exhausts us, change in routines. We seldom realize how our daily liturgy grounds us, freeing us from the uncertainty of choosing. We order our days with schedules and preferences, but travel disrupts all that. We eat different things at different times; we exercise in different ways or not at all. We conduct business in different time zones and invariably realize we brought the wrong clothes.

In a different culture, we second-guess the things we do and the order in which we do them. But we still need routines, so we create new ones, often haphazardly. New habits are hard, but we try and fail. And then, just as they start to take root, we leave and abandon them or adapt them. Gradually. Gradually, by the way, is not how Western culture is wired.

Did I mention I’m tired? The routine that probably matters most is the one that is most disrupted: sleep and rest. That’s why you often hear people say they have to go back to work to recover from their vacations. What they are really saying is they have to go back to their routines, but it will take some effort. And a few naps.

relationships refresh and exhaust

All relationships that matter are high maintenance. This Is not a bad thing, especially the ones that bring us joy. However, the more connected we are, the more energy we spend keeping up with more people. I haven’t seen my grandkids here on the island in a year, but we don’t start from scratch. We have a history, so we are testing our expectations and memories against a new reality. The oldest has a driver’s permit. The youngest is FOUR. She tells us this every day. If we pay attention to the changes, we will pray more thoughtfully.

At the same time, however, we are trying to maintain relationships with new friends in Nepal, checking social media, sending messages, asking questions. There have been births and weddings since we left. With time and effort, we ask better questions. Keeping up is stressful, but often good stress, with rich rewards. Not all the stress is good stress, of course. We notice things that concern us, that may require difficult conversations. Or delicate ones. Or more prayer.

We’ll have brunch with our youngest son on his birthday next Friday, then begin renewing and maintaining dozens of other professional and personal relationships in our neighborhood, church, workplaces. This can also all be physically taxing: navigating transitions, establishing routines, maintaining relationships, and crossing time zones.

But we will be back in our own bed next week, and having morning tea on our own front porch.

And looking forward to our next adventure.

1 thought on “Around the world in half a year”

  1. Welcome almost home. David Martin Stevens Psalm 118:23-25 today and every day!

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