Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Monday, May 16, 2011

Padded Cell

You know those stories about explorers who can't ever settle down and get comfortable in the "real" world?  I can relate.

Not that I think I'm Indiana Jones, or anything.  But the stillness of the back to normal is very disconcerting.  My dis-ease is heightened by the gripping bouts of fatigue that hit me out of nowhere; jet-lag is a monster and this monster owns me even a week after I've landed.  I feel, at times, like I've suddenly discovered that I'm strapped to the table in some institution designed to keep me safe and, consequently, as if all that I learned and became available to in my travels were the discoveries of a mad-woman.

I continue to wake up between 4:30 and 5:30 in the morning, just as I did in Darjeeling and Varanasi where the allure of the sunrise gave the early rising an air of mystical import.  Here, in Seattle, the early hour feels like a cheat of good sleep.  I mentioned that on facebook and my friend, Truman, wrote to suggest that I might try looking at Seattle with the traveler's eye, using the early hour here to explore with my camera.  It is a wonderful suggestion, one I've carried with me for the last day as I've struggled to ignite my sense of curiosity about home, a place I think I already know the depth and breadth of.

What I notice most, right now, is the cleanliness, the affluence, the ease, not only of my own life, but of everyone around me.  Even when I was hit with a massive car repair bill three days after I returned, I was aware that, although it's a major hit to my bank account, that I have the means to pay it off when I was living, only weeks ago, with families who couldn't afford vital health care treatments that were a fraction of a fraction of the cost of my car bill.  I eat single meals in restaurants that cost what families of 5 or 6 in India eat off of for weeks.

Aditya, one of my hosts in Delhi, explained that the reason so many Indians are fastidious about the cleanliness of their homes and yards while piles of trash and filth lay just outside their gates, is that the idea of communal stewardship doesn't exist in India.  That's not universal.  I met one couple in Santiniketan who personally pay for a group of people to clean up the trash in their neighborhood and to dispose of it properly in a landfill.  Aditya works with a group struggling to save several acres of forest on the JNU campus in Delhi.  But, there is a long way to go before the general population of India cottons onto the idea of pitching in to keep their country clean.

Something else that I discovered in my last week in India was that there isn't a word in Hindi for privacy.  This also explains a lot.  I rather wish I'd known that at the top of my visit.  It's hard to have expectations of privacy when you know you are living someplace that doesn't know what it is.

But if you think about it, there is an interesting dichotomy there.  You have a huge population that has little to no physical space issues, no privacy issues, but they do not work together to care for the space that they all share.

Back home, I'm aware that we are the opposite.  Americans tend to hold their personal space and their affairs private, but we take great pride and ownership of keeping our streets and shared spaces clean.  Working in my yard yesterday, overgrown as it always is in the spring, I was aware of my duty to clean it up for my neighbors, to make sure the trash that was hiding in the brush was disposed of and the sidewalk clear of branches that might impede the flow of traffic.

And after a few days of relaxing and relishing my private space, I find I miss the intrusion of strangers when I walk down the street.  No one comes up and asks where I am from, no one returns a smile; there is a decided lack of curiosity about the things around them, which, as I've been saying, I understand.

Our western world is clean and ordered, the expectations are set-out for us about behavior and social interaction.  When we drive down the road we all know what lane we must stay in, for the most part we all put on our signals when we intend to turn left or right, we only honk in an emergency.  I would venture to guess that most of us know how our day will go, or at least guess we do and are seldom surprised.  We don't travel through our day alert of cows in the path, monkeys descending from the trees, the bag-boy at the grocery store surprising us with a mystical revelation.

We live in a world where front porches are disappearing because everyone wants to stay closed into their private spaces, which is something that had, before India, been a defining part of my character.....I was a person without a front porch who was selective about who I invited into my house, into my personal and tender spaces.  In India, I felt like my borders got teased out, softened; I felt like a soul evolving.  Existing for so long in a place where doors are always open, where the village comes out to meet you, where babies are thrust continually into stranger's arms for photographing, where you become family in an instant, made me aware of a longing I have to be a part of my world, to be involved, to be connected in a more intimate, less private sort of way.

Yet, here I am in my porchless home, feeling aimless, disconnected from both India and this life that I've known for so long in Seattle.  It's no wonder, I suppose, that I imagine myself a mad woman, because I'm caught between lives, between realities, and where I was so sure last week that I could create any reality I want, now that I am back in my so clearly defined life, I have trouble believing that that is true.

1 comment:

Boo said...

This is normal. I remember feeling this.
I, too, struggle with depression and isolation breeds depression as you already know. I do better in collective cultures because when other humans need me or notice me, I can at least get out of myself. But otherwise, it's difficult to find reasons to get out of myself and connect. This is why becoming a therapist is the right job for me. I have to put myself in the presence of other human beings or else I drown.

There is also something else that might be going on. A version of "survivor's guilt".
I remember coming back from India and thinking "we have so much and we aren't doing anything with it. " It's white guilt essentially but it's also the realization of the selfishness and self centeredness of our culture.

You can still wake up. Right where you are. You're doing it. And you're reminding me that I can too...