“Were you high when you wrote it?” my father asked of my last blog post. “It reads like that might be the case.” Well, Dad, no. But during the wild ride that has composed my time back in the states, I’ve started to see where he was coming from. Re-entry is different for each and every international traveler, but in typical Dan fashion, I took it to a degree of extremeness unparalleled at any other point in my life. One possible explanation: I left Buenos Aires with a recording breaking heat index upwards of 120 degrees. Three days later, a cold front dubbed “Chiberia” blew in wind chills of 50 below. A quite literal 180 degree flip defined my winter quarter with a sine wave of ups and downs. Throughout those ups and downs I claimed several moments to be the “one,” the catalyst for a blog post, but they never came to fruition. Five months later I finally found the motivation to write. I have Jen and Doug to thank for that as their encouragement truly struck a chord in a way little else has recently. But in attempt to address some of what happened since I’ve been home, I have to back up – all the way up. First and foremost, the pants.
I realized after only a few days back that my tan, hair, and newfound pants alone were striking enough to attract a few double takes. But as I continued to operate on a wavelength foreign to everyone around, including myself, I realized my folks were justified in having their parental alarms triggered. In reality, what motivated my behavior more than anything else was fear. Fear I wouldn’t do my experience abroad justice if I lived the life of a driven advertising student fighting for paid internships. Fear of not taking advantage of the little responsibility required of a college student. Fear I would live a boring, routine life. In the end, I failed to avoid one of the biggest fears of all: talking about my experience abroad instead of acting out the ways in which it shaped me. No one would claim I spoke endlessly about Argentina, but I sure as hell criticized contemporary life in the States in a way I could not have done had I not left it behind for a few months. I attempted to acknowledge my privilege and do something with it but in the process I flaunted it in a way that made me look like I wasn’t doing anything. And I wasn’t. But I truly felt like I was using my time well because I was present to what unfolded in front of me in a completely life-giving way. That meant the world to me given my own experience with anxiety, and worse, apathy towards days that lay in front of me. I was free of inhibitions that once felt so heavy and exhausting. In a way, I was high. High on presence, content, and excitement – a life so fully in the now. But it was also a high from which I would eventually come down throughout a turbulent remainder of the school year. As the novelty of home faded and reality set in, I began to lose touch with what seemed so exciting: a connection to something bigger than myself, a feeling of purpose, an intentional use of time.
That something, something bigger than ourselves, was easy to appreciate whilst in Casa. We were there with a purpose. To accompany, to learn, to grow focus support and live. And we did so within a group of nine. No other friends to distract us. No parties to attend. No TV shows to watch. No phone to take us out of our environment. No career path to worry about. Those last two were of particular focus (academic, no less) of mine upon my return. What is the impact of technology and capitalism on human connection and preoccupation? How much does progression lead us towards an unattainable carrot on a stick? These thoughts led me to disconnect and disengage from the path assumed of me given my degree in advertising. I withdrew myself from all media save music. Here’s an excerpt from a unfinished blog entry that encapsulates my attitude towards life in the US:
Despite my efforts, my disconnection and disengagement from my society left me alone, empty of life. In Argentina, we often spoke about “life-giving” practices. A life-giving practice is, well, enlivening. That isn’t to say that each instance of a life-giving exercise is exhilarating, but at the very least, it leaves one with a sense of fulfillment and content. “What gives you life?” we’d ask one another. Things like direct service, teaching, gardening, going for walks, laughing with friends, playing guitar… These all encompass what us Casa students feel most strongly about. Yet in my life at home, for one reason or another, I lost a bit of clarity as to the power of those moments on a larger scale. For me personally, I would come to learn a stark difference between playing the guitar by myself, alone in my apartment and playing next to a friend reading a book or playing basketball. In both my academic and anecdotal pursuits, it’s become clear that the truest feeling of fulfillment and content stem from community and social support. More than technology use, diet and exercise, occupation, or any other facet of life. With that, I’m left where so many people across generations are today in the US: striving to be a part of a community, have a sense of belonging, and connection to a purpose beyond myself. Without those things, the immense power that my mind – all minds – posses goes inward and torments the soul yearning for more.