On Being Home

What does it feel like to come home after a year of being away? — Over a year ago I went to Guatemala to do voluntary work under a mission our church is involved with. This was a promising venture (promising in that it would be interesting) and I decided early on to hold off on a visit home until this Christmas.

I had left for Guatemala in November 2009 –late enough in the year to get a few chilly mornings –but not so late as to see snow or ice or any temperatures to those extremes. Actually, the last time I had seen freezing temperatures had been the December 2008 just before I went to Nicaragua for the winter/spring. And so as I looked forwards to traveling home from Guatemala for Christmas break, I was also interested in what the extreme climate change might be like. I was also worried about keeping my English separated from my Spanish (we mix the two all the time there), hand motions that are different, and what sort of emotional trauma I would find myself in when I felt American turf under foot.

The weeks before the final travel date were busy ones in Guatemala. We were in the midst of a move and had many projects to finish up before I left. When I had time I thought excitedly about going home and dreamt up all the amazing things I would do and see upon arrival. I was pretty sure I could kiss the flight and ground crew multiple times for their part in getting my home. But while it was fun to imagine, I had become so accustomed to my life in Guatemala that America and family and places seemed dream-like and unreal. I was pretty sure that coming home would be the experience of a life time. —

I was peeking out my little window on the Boeing 737 from Guatemala watching the oil rigs churn 30,000 feet below me. By the size of the ships from that distance I could only imagine how big they actually were. As I thought about oil rigs I had seen, I realized that we couldn’t be far from land anymore. It was less than 10 seconds when I saw the shore line slip out from under the wing. America!, I thought. Wow. This is great. I was looking forwards to the emotional high of being home. Dallas was very unreal. It really didn’t feel like I had Guatemala that much, except that everyone was talking English –which for some reason irritated me. I guess I learned to enjoy being able to shut out background conversations.

Then Dullus. Dullus was great –I could see moonlight reflecting off the snow as we approached for landing. I walked off the airplane, feeling for the first time like I was in the States again, but not having any seizures yet.

I waited for my baggage, keeping a careful eye out for my friend Eldon. I didn’t want him sneaking up on me. He did anyway and poked me in the side. What a pal! We had a good laugh, grabbed my luggage and headed for the car. The next part is probably the most vivid in my mind. As we descended into the basement/entrance the cold began to push in. I had felt some of it as I had stepped off the plane, but that felt unreal. Now I began to feel like I was walking into a large indoor freezer. And that’s about exactly what I WAS doing, only the freezer wasn’t in doors.

I stepped outside (without my coat mind you) into the 30 degree night of Virginia. Ah, what a glorious experience that! I could tell you much more. The roads were oh so smooth. The car oh so fast and sporty. The traffic oh so light. I could tell you of driving through Rustburg, and of seeing Dad and Mom, and of stepping into my house, and of sleeping in my own bed! Perfectly thrilling, all of it. But it really felt as if I had only been gone a couple months and not over a year… Everything just felt natural and almost normal. I actually felt a bit slighted that I wasn’t feeling more culture shock!

It’s been in the days since as I’ve looked back at that first night in the States that I began to appreciate the experience. It was far more thrilling than I thought after all!

Happy New Year One and All!