The great, wide world

This past summer I spent two weeks teaching English in Jordan. I thought, when I’d returned home, I’d write about the experience—a lot. But it’s December now and I still haven’t. I wrote a few little pieces here and there but not much. I realize now that I’ve been afraid to, afraid to spill out into words how much the trip rattled me, shaking out the dust of my assumptions and beliefs. I haven’t wanted to face this for some time: my newness and what it might mean for my future.

Adjusting back into my current job, as the editor of a weekly community newspaper, was exceptionally difficult. I’d say it took a couple of months. For a long time I just could not focus. I’d come into work, sit my body down into the chair in front of the computer screen, but I still felt thousands of miles away. Where was my mind? I wanted, in a strange way, to be back in the Middle East. But was that really what I wanted? Or was what I craved the newness, the sharp break in my schedule? I was drunk silly on the differentness of it all, lost and disoriented in it and maybe just a little bit in love. In a way it felt like a dream, too. In two short weeks I was plucked from my life and plunged into something drastically different, and, upon my return, it felt somewhat like maybe I had dreamed it all.

Going to Jordan made me realize in a skin on skin kind of way how big the world is. I’d known it looking at a map, but I’d never felt it. You feel the world’s bigness in a classroom filled with Arabic-speaking men who, for the life of them, cannot pronounce “P” or “V,” and you realize that these sounds never penetrated their language; you realize that the way you speak is not the way millions of other people in the world speak. You feel the bigness of the world when you see the rocks of Petra rising sculpted in the desert air and realize that not too long ago people made their homes in the carved-out crevices.

Not long after I returned, the world’s bigness weighed on me. I thought of my two weeks in Jordan, and how much I’d seen of the world—how I’d felt like I my eyes feasted everywhere I went on newness—and realized, sadly, how little I’d really seen. How much more was out there, everywhere. If only I could get to it. I settled back into my life reporting on town budgets and new school policies and the village’s installation of new fire hydrants, and felt through to my bones and blood, in a very deep way, that I was missing the great, wide world. I had tasted life beyond the cubicle and beyond the government board meeting and, like an animal tasting blood for the first time, I wanted it more than ever. The ache has dulled in the past few months as I try to forget the wonderfulness, lest I miss it. But, if I am perfectly honest with myself, I do miss it. Sometimes terribly. Maybe not Jordan in particular, but the thrill at plunging into something wholly unknown, serving in it and, in the process, letting it fill you back up.

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