Finding one spot where I’m filled with gratitude is incredibly hard. I’ve moved a lot, slept under various skies, eaten many different kitchens, and said “good morning!” in a few languages. I’ve returned to places I had initially felt good, but found the scenery had changed. I’ve visited friends who at one time ignited a great sense of gratitude- but then, people change too. Nowadays, I find gratitude in not a place or person, but rather in the act of returning home.
Home. Not where you go for the holidays, or the rom-com cliché, “home is where the heart is,“ because often, that’s complicated. It’s much simpler: home is the place you are returning. Anyone who lists traveling as a passion has, at some level, a devotion to uncertainty. One travels to experience something new, taste something different, to hear something unfamiliar. With us, not knowing is a gift and testing our adaptability is thrilling. When I embark, there’s a sense of wonder, curiosity and though my feet haven’t touched the ground, I’m so ready to run.
The journey, of course, is great. I saw it, smelled it, touched it, bought a t-shirt and took a picture. But the real power of the trip is in the return to the familiar. That period of return limbo, where I’m not quite anywhere, is often reflective. I sit with my thoughts, going over the funny bits, the weird parts, and how infuriating it is to be lost at night. I also think about who I met, what I discovered, and how being lost isn’t really that bad. Then, I think about what’s next. Invariably, I’ve been changed. I am stronger.
These moments of reflection result in what I’m going to do better; how I can cook with more spice, be more patient with foreigners, learn how to navigate without Google Maps, dress in more layers, show more kindness to airport staff. I make lists, lots of lists. My mind races and I’m excited to change. In these return flights, I recognize how lucky I am to have a bed with my name on it, and how, even at the most basic level, I’ve just exercised the beautifully human instinct of exploration. I am free.
Disembarking typically feels good. Landing stateside after weeks abroad, it’s hard to not smile. I am reminded that yes, smiling at strangers can simply be a nice thing to do human-to-human. A “howdy!” can simply be an acknowledgement, not a direct link to uncomfortable confrontation. During those few minutes from gate door to airport exit, I can’t decide whether to walk slowly in order savor the last moments of the unknown or run so that I can start practicing my newly discovered life hacks. Even if it’s not a southern hospitality airport and it’s the basic, green carpeted, forever unchanging airport, recognizing home turf feels awesome. And, whether I’m jumping in or climbing out, I’m thankful it exists in a huge world of spectacular chaos; gratitude is in the returning.
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