Field Notes
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The giddy apprehension of return

The cloud forest at Parque Chicaque – one of my favorite places in Colombia

In March, Katherine — a kindred spirit and blessed companion in this life by all accounts — wrote an essay titled “The Art of Returning.” In it, she reflected on the joys and challenges of returning to a place she once called home. I have always considered myself incapable of this rite of passage. The thought of returning as a traveler — a tourist! —  to a place that once hosted my zip code and memories alike has always felt heart-wrenching.

I am writing these words on the floor of the Boston home that has, in many ways, symbolized a sense of rooted permanence in the past year. I sit next to packed suitcase and printed boarding passes and I’m surrounded by tokens of every other home that I have loved, tucked lovingly onto walls or draped over coffee tables. The Jerusalem clock, the Greek wine glasses the ‘tavern girls’ bought me as a farewell. In this moment, I sit at the intersection of worlds: transience and permanence, nomadism and home-making, here and away.

I thrive at intersections. I cherish their symbolism and the promise intertwined with nostalgia. I try to embrace the nerves blending with anticipation, the wistful missing of the present in which I live married to the excitement to explore the journey on which I am about to embark.

Returning is, indeed, an art. On particularly dreamy summer evenings, aided by wine and breeze alike, my friends and I often like to exchange travel lists. Iceland seems to be universally at the top of every list. The Bolivian Salt Flats. Diving in New Zealand. The Cinque Terre. The topic inevitably turns to whether we would like to return to a destination we once loved or whether we, instead, prize moving forward — to onward and upward, or as e.e. cummings would put it, ‘to opening and upward.’ I have always been in favor of novelty, perhaps because I place a high value on ‘beginner’s mind‘ and hold dear the experiences that can inspire it.

Tomorrow, for the first time, I will practice the art of returning. I do so with apprehension and clumsiness, with giddiness and fear. I am off to Colombia, which has been exceedingly generous to me. Colombia graced me with the exhilaration of stumbling into my life’s work — of realizing that I am indeed doing my life’s work, of acknowledging the blessing of that realization. Colombia gifted me with cloud forests and graffiti, with my favorite dish of ‘papas bravas’ and the highest altitude at which I have ever breathed. Colombia taught me as much about gentleness and love as it did about the ways in which these can co-exist next to violence and the struggle to overcome its effects.

I have no doubt that I can continue to learn from all Colombia still has to teach me. My apprehension lies exactly in how precious these memories have become. I fear returning to a place I have loved so deeply and earnestly. There is a sliver of vulnerability to returning to a place one is certain she has loved and revisiting it with older eyes. What if the colors do not match my memories? What if my way of seeing them has changed? In many ways, my fear of return lies in revisiting the impressions of my younger self.

Perhaps my favorite essay this June was a piece by Nina Martyris in Guernica. She explores how countries are branded, Colombia, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the intersection of these topics. In it, she writes: “And yet, the true texture of Colombia’s beauty comes not by pretending its problems are wholly over, but in seeing how darkness is interwoven with the light.” Among all the more quantifiable research/academic/professional/blahblah goals, that is my intention: to see, to really see. To see with the open eyes that are revisiting, rather than the novel eyes that are first arriving. To see myself in the past kindly, and see the room for beginner’s mind anew. To look for the light.

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