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NYC to Sri Lanka: Reflections on Distant Worlds

The wheels hit the airport runway. At last, I was home. My face was glued to the small oval window of row 31. The man sitting next to me looked at me and laughed, “first time in Sri Lanka?” he asked. “No. I live here.” I replied. “I live here,” I repeated in my mind. Yes, this has become my home. My giddiness probably made me look like an anxious American tourist, the kind who has a camera dangling from her neck, ready to snap away at the site of anything new. But, my excitement did not come from Sri Lanka’s unfamiliarity, it came from the refreshing rush of being back in a place that makes me feel more alive than I have ever felt before.

My last trip to the States made me appreciate Sri Lanka in a new way. Somehow, as I walked the streets of New York City, I felt out of place in my own country. I felt for the first time that my passport could actually be lying, that somehow this jungle of tall buildings and asphalt was not my own but rather something foreign to me. Granted, New York is not my home. My farm in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina is my home and is an entirely different world than New York City. But, something about life in the States feels a bit more flat than it used to. Things are so clean, so manicured, so orderly. Everything you could need is at your fingertips. Shops are specialized, they aren’t small rickety booths overflowing in every item on the planet, except of course, the one you need. Transportation stays in its own lane. People stay in their own lane too. They each have their own individual lives, speeding down the highway of life. Things don’t seem real to me any more. I remember walking into a hotel restaurant. “What kind of water would you like?” I looked at the waitress. ‘What kind of water? Clean water please,’ I remember thinking. ‘I can drink tap water again!’ But, the waitress began listing off the types of water they had. What have we progressed to when we can count all the types of water we have available to us on two hands? Some people in the world wouldn’t be able to lift one finger when it comes to accessible clean water and here I am trying to decide if I want Evian or Poland Springs. Yes, I was back in the States. It’s not that everything about life in the States was horrible. I am very appreciative of consistent power, comfortable temperatures, and washing machines. But, I felt like life barely scratched the surface. I was back to purely verbal exchanges: no more miming with my hands, simplifying my speech, enunciating my words…no more bargaining for a better price or using broken Sinhala. An extra 20 cents with a smile and thank you doesn’t carry nearly as much weight in the States. In Sri Lanka, it can make someone’s day.

This is why I was excited to be back in Sri Lanka. I stepped off the plane and I realized that life is alive here (just as it should be!). I engage all my senses, every emotion I have ever had. It is rich and full to the brim. Oddly enough, I was excited to be back in the overwhelming traffic, excited to smell the burning trash, excited to be haggled. Every ounce of life engages me so fully, sometimes with extreme highs, other times extreme lows. My life is sinusoidal. It’s amplitude is so much greater here in Sri Lanka. In the US, one might not even see it as a sin wave… the ups and downs are so small it is nearly a straight line, contained as everyone would want them to be, trying to dilute the occasional inconsistency. I am back to crying at least once a week and in the next moment laughing and smiling with a sincerity I have never known. It is absolutely wonderful.

Yes, I am home in Sri Lanka. And, more importantly, Sri Lanka has helped me to feel at home in myself and my interactions with the world. I have a new self-awareness and appreciation for life. I know more about who I am, the rhythms of my life, and those of the world. I know what I love. Life is absolutely precious and intensely beautiful.

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