When I said goodbye to my family at Chicago O’Hare a month ago, I looked back twice. The first time, they were standing there waving at me, proud and scared as I was. The second time, they were gone, their places filled by strangers bumbling from one place to the next. I gripped the straps of my back pack around my shoulders and took a deep breath, and then another, and then another until I was ready. For what exactly I couldn’t say. But I felt ready. Ready to leave, ready to try. Just ready all at once.
But precisely what makes travel so exciting and powerful is the fact that I’m not actually ready—a reality I’ve had to face repeatedly in a myriad of mundane settings since I arrived in Lithuania. Ordering food, buying a bus ticket, trying to pronounce a new acquaintance’s name. No amount of packing, prayer, or day-dreaming makes someone ready for what travel actually is: a stubborn and clumsy rebirth. This process of awakening and adaptating is ugly and imperfect. Like the time I tipped and then kept tipping the hairdresser until I realized she was still just trying to understand what “Do I tip you now or later?” meant. Or the time I mispronounced “student discount” on the bus. Or the time I stood before a class of adult English-learners and used too many technical grammar terms, my methodological blindspots showing clearly to my cooperating teacher as the class looked at each other, completely confused.
And it’s not just that the rebirthing process is often awkward. Sometimes it’s just disappointingly cyclical. No matter how well I’ve begun to learn the streets or the social cues, I find myself walking in circles. For every landmark and memorial I’ve visited, I always see the same old me reflected back at me in ways that aren’t always comfortable. Here I am, an American. Here I am, human. Wandering, searching, fumbling human. Here I am—running away from home, but always finding it again in myself. Here I am, all on my own but never really alone. Here I am, maybe not ready, but stepping into myself day by day in good faith. Being reborn again and again and again… Here I am in Lithuania. Here I am, going home.