The Museum of Your Life

If you ever want to get the feeling of the time turner in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, simply fly from Asia to America.

I left Shanghai at 6:00 PM, 12-19-12, and I arrived in Chicago at 5:30 PM, 12-19-12, after a 13 1/2 hour flight. I feel like I lost time in there somewhere, even if I gained it. When you cross the International Date Line, it really messes with your head.

I’m writing this at the tender hour of 5:30 AM in Chicago, mostly because I’m all jacked up on jet lag. After going to bed my first night at 10 PM – a rather reasonable hour – I thought I’d be all normal. Not so. I ended up sleeping for 14 hours straight, finally crawling out of bed at noon on Thursday. Then, I come to realize that I had taken two dramamine on the plane, mostly to help me sleep and not be awake all of the flight (and slight motion sickness from turbulence over Japan), and then, thinking that it was out of my system, having a glass of glogg with my family that night. Needless to say, there was no way I was going to sleep less than 14 after that!

And now, I’m wide awake after only four hours of sleep. Sigh. It’s not a bad thing, I guess, and I can attempt a normal bedtime tonight. I’m planning on visiting the school where I used to teach today, as long as the roads aren’t horribly icy (Snowmagdeon 2012, like Doomsday, was not happening for parts of Illinois today).

Overall, though, I’m working through, again, reverse shock, really. It’s like stepping into a museum when you come home. This is stuff is yours, but you haven’t seen it in four and a half months, and it’s all very similar to artifacts and relics of a life you had before deciding to move to a foreign country. All these things I was sure I couldn’t live without – I went without. I feel like I want to tag and catalog items and explain their historical significance. I wonder what else I could include in the museum of my life? As if I were famous and someone dedicated a space to me, what would these things mean?

And now, I have a strange, distant affinity for them, like that cousin you barely know but they’re family, so you like them by proxy. It’s amazing how, when it’s around you, the emotional attachment you form to things that are, really, pretty meaningless. I have a load of books about England. I like them. They’re pretty. Some are quite old. They mean something to me because I lived in England, and, I think I might like England…but they’re not the most important thing when considering what to bring with me. I have loads of craft and art supplies. Obviously, I enjoy that. But, I accumulated so much that I had no idea what to do with it. Some I will pack and take with me now. Some, I may bring back at the end of summer.

I have no idea what my things say about me, but it really is a museum. It’s the possessions of a life I had not long ago, and it’s hard to reconcile two different people. I actually have a BC period, funny enough. There’s everything Before China, and now it’s a new era. Where I see things differently – and where I myself am changing. Things changed, circumstances changed, and now I’m working to change with it. I went to China, in some ways, hoping to have the new surroundings change me but still, deep-down, clinging to everything that I should change instead of changing myself too.

You bring baggage with you, no matter where you go, both figuratively and literally. And moments when you’re alone, or able to pause and think despite the whirlwind of activity, your baggage quite rudely runs over your foot. Several times. It’s enough to make you realize that, you can change your location and your job and your home (very drastically), but it is yourself, the deepest parts of yourself, that need to change as well. One day we’ll talk about a huge moment of reckoning on, quite aptly, the Great Wall itself. Except it wasn’t the invading hordes from the north that the Wall had to drive out; it was something needing to be realized and articulated by myself.

This experience changes people, and for those who expect sameness, they are surprised, probably just as much as the person who goes through it, by these changes. It’s nothing they have done or that they themselves have changed so very much; it’s simply the rule that life moves on whether you’re here for it or not.

It’s only that more noticeable when you leave and expect nothing to have changed when you return. It’s that confusing moment of wondering where you are now and where you used to be and how you still fit.

It’s the puzzle piece that doesn’t make sense unless you have the whole picture.

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