January 6, 2016
This morning I boarded my 21st plane in the past 365 days, with only 8 hours and 40 minutes to spare: from 4:00 pm on January 6, 2015 to 7:20 am on this morning of January 6, 2016, I stepped on planes that carried me not just to stretches of the world I never imagined I would go, but also corners of my very self that I never fathomed existed. Connor thinks I’m insane for keeping track of such dates. He’s probably right. But I can’t help but to find something remarkable in this anniversary.
I’m far from the same person I was at the beginning of 2015 when I boarded a Dublin-bound-via-Toronto Air Canada flight at O’Hare. I remember feeling imperfectly at ease as I read my Kindle at the gate and then explored the terminal’s bookstore to kill some time. I sensed that that twisted feeling of easiness would soon subside to make way for anxiety and doubt, but I didn’t know exactly what I was sensing those 365 days ago. The only thing I knew for sure was that my life would change in my time abroad. The mystery remained how I might change, and how long that process would actually be (hint: it remains fluid even now).
I believed a common myth before my temporary move to Ireland that studying abroad changes you only because of the wondrous places you’ll go and things you’ll see. I discounted the tremendous trials inherently necessary to truly changing and growing. Now, as so many of my friends venture abroad this week and next, I’ve been trying to debunk that myth as delicately as possible: in no way do I want to scare anyone away, but I want my friends to understand the complexity of this journey they’re about to take in a much deeper way than I did when I truly left my home for the first time. It’s a journey that starts for real the moment you make it through the security line at the airport and continues to impact you for months beyond your return to this country. A journey that takes you to both incredible reaches of the word and scarily deep parts of your own self. Discoveries abound. Favorite new places will be claimed. Parts of your life before this trip will be left in Europe forever, others shed gradually in the months you return, and plenty retained forever. You’ll bring back new features of yourself developed necessarily as a part of your immense independence and adventure. All in all, the challenges are astounding, and the victories will take you higher than any plane can over these next few months, no matter how long it takes to learn how real those victories are.
At dinner tonight at Epcot Canada, Mrs. Jordan asked where I was at that exact time last year. For as much as I’d thought all week about the absurdity of being in Chicago and in the air on the same date in back-to-back years, it completely slipped my mind that I’d spent a few hours in Canada on January 6, 2015 as well—from 6:34 pm until 8:55 pm, I waited in the Toronto airport for my connecting flight. All of a sudden it hit me that when we arrived for our reservation at Le Cellier tonight, on January 6, 2016 at 8:50 pm, I found myself back in some sort of quasi-Canada—an airport then, a theme park now—for a second consecutive year at the exact same time.
I don’t know quite what this all symbolizes. But the parallels can’t be for naught, right?
I find myself constantly seeking symmetry and closure, even when I know such things are impossible. We’re told that we must grow comfortable with the discomfort of a lack of closure in our lives. Loose ends don’t tie themselves unless in irreversible knots. The silent explanation is the prevailing sentiment, whether we like it or not. But every once in a while, our worlds collide and remind us that although closure might be a bit too much to ask, we shouldn’t forget the perpetual connection between all of our experiences and relationships.
Anyone who has kept up with my blogs probably has caught on to the turbulence that accompanied my past 365 days, particularly while I was abroad. For the first time in my life, I was thoroughly confused by everything that came my way, in some form or another. I went from having a plan to being horrified that that plan might not be feasible to finally accepting the beauty of the uncertainty in taking life as it is given, not futilely attempting to sculpt its dripping, immense frame.
Then on the 365th day I saw that it all comes together. I don’t know how, but it does. It did today.
To all of my friends who departed earlier this week, who are reading this at the airport as they prepare to board an eight-hour flight, who leave tomorrow or in a week, I’m so thrilled that you’re about to discover depths of this world and yourselves that you never knew existed before. Even when the journey makes less sense to your mind than any foreign language does to your ears, it all comes together. Go out there and do abroad better than any of the rest of us have. You owe it to yourselves.
“We seldom know what we’re hearing when we hear something for the first time, but one thing is for certain: we hear it as we will never hear it again. We return to the moment to experience it, I suppose, but we can never really find it, only its memory, the faintest imprint of what it really was, what it meant.” – Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, page 47.