I have lived in a land foreign to that of my birth for 2 weeks short of a year. A land that has the highest burnout rate of western expats and I have asked for more. I take some pride in that fact, a healthy dose of humility, and an equal measure of thanksgiving. The last year has taken its tole. There have been casualties and lessons learned. I am a bit more weary, scarred, and suspicious then when I set foot in this land. I can appreciate color and vibrancy in a way I never thought possible. I have re-affirmed that my spirit withers when it is too long kept from the piney woods. I will even go so far to say that though I abused it as not a proper substitute for the Sierra Nevadas of my youth; I authentically miss the ability to camp and out of doors oneself that I had in Ohio, which is really saying something.
I have learned nothing I expected to learn about another culture and a library worth of information I never desired to know about myself. I have a strong tendency to be a workaholic. I like my family better than anyone else. I have trouble trusting other people to do things if my name is on them and have a higher capacity for stress than I would have initially suspected. I have learned what happens to me physically and emotionally when I surpass that capacity. I have broader shoulders than I imagined. I can take the blame and not throw my colleagues under the bus. I can hold my temper, but only so long. I am abhorrently lazy at studying another language. I love tons of sugar with enough cardamom added. I detest chocolate that has tons of sugar. I know less about India then when I arrived. I have never felt the constant presence of humanity that exists here, even after living in downtown Chicago. I have never felt so lonely as I do now.
Friendship is a funny subject with me. I consider myself, at least in an American context, as someone who is very willing to throw myself into relationships and be honest and transparent with those around me. That is very likely not actually true. I have been continually and repeatedly blessed with deep and fulfilling friendships. Some who love the same things that I do. Some who are allergic to grease and pine needles. At the end of the day I have loved and have been loved. I am a self-avowed horrid long distance friend but am perfectly willing to pick up where we left off when I see you again. I probably won't call but will not be bothered if you don't either. I will, however, be bothered if you avoid me because I didn't call.
I often am evangelical in my relationships. It will not be long after we begin socializing that you will sample a few of my many manias. Pipe smoking, artisan beer, motorcycles, or camping will come up in conversations and we would have discussions while reducing a Latakia flake to its lowest denomination, sipping a fine porter, getting our hands dirty or at least talking about getting our hands dirty. I am quick to get in a debate but quicker to laugh. I would not be surprised if I offended you but will be surprised when I learned that I have.
I now live in a land without briar, with 5 brands of beer, 100cc motorcycles, and the act of camping requires an indomitable will and significantly more time and money then I posses. I do love the motorcycles but have no time to tinker. I have been cloistered by my work schedule and ostracized by a culture I do not understand. Not since I met my savior have I been encountered loneliness but my childhood companion has returned with crushing enthusiasm.
The pathetically ironic truth is that I am surrounded by excessively lonely people. Some have their party face on, some sit alone on the weekends but they all feel exactly the way that I do. Unfortunately once you get used to not being connected it is extraordinarily difficult to be so. Conversations about truth and justice, passion and fire seem difficult and exhausting. The couch has an insatiable appetite for time and television, leaving us empty eyed and empty hearted for all our efforts. Truth is the answer is a simple one. Truth is if the answer was so simple we'd all be doing it.
Some of the same arguments from my encyclopedia days begin to ring in my empty skull. I'm strong enough on my own. Friends hurt and disappoint.
But the arguments carry even less weight then they did then. I have known what it is like to walk amongst brothers. I have known the refreshing terror of bearing my soul for public inspection and I miss it. I miss being vulnerable and seeing other people's vulnerability. I miss being refreshed by a congregation of souls. I have had such a surplus of wholesome friendships that I thought all I really needed was my family. But now I stand in the somewhat awkward position that there is something lacking. To be surrounded by the ugliness of urbanity and its filth and to bear with it isolation has been intolerable. It is not the restful cleansing isolation of some mountain hermitage. It is a lonesomeness as dirty as the urine splattered walls around me and half as comforting. I feel the city and the air that has been breathed by a million other lonely people before it enters my lungs. The pollution seeps into my soul as it seeps into my pores and I have let it. I have allowed myself be a victim of circumstance and lethargic acculturation. I have surrendered before the battle began, not showing my struggles but given into my ever-present weaknesses. And maybe that is what I have learned most about myself, how far I have yet to go.