“I heard and I forgot. I saw and I remembered. I did and I understood”—Confucius
A change of clothes sits on my bed next to a half-opened backpack and three large duffle bags. The wall is barren, all of the post-it notes my friends and I wrote to each other all summer long are collected in my journal. The room is quiet.
Yesterday, before our rather sophisticated Alumni Ball, the administration held a seminar to speak with us about Re-Entry into the United States and a phenomenon most of us have been dreading: reverse culture shock. The ship psychologists were on hand to provide us with a number of different strategies on coping with the effects of returning to the United States after 65 days abroad. They stressed that, despite what people at home might like to believe (and perhaps what some of us onboard still believe) we are not the same people we left as in June. The sticky part of the situation is that the problems, relationships, issues, and responsibilities of home still are the same, and we will be returning to these things as completely different individuals, with new perspectives on how to handle our problems and a different way in which we want to live our lives—the kind of things we want to do, the people we wish to surround ourselves with. We were warned about encountering frustration at being unable to convey just what this summer has done for our lives, and bewilderment and confusion at the American way of life for awhile. Eventually, we began to understand that re-entry is going to be an incredibly difficult process. Physically, we have no choice. Emotionally, we are willing the ship to turn around and head back to the Mediterranean. Mentally, we are forcing ourselves to realize that we have become stronger, transformed people, imbued with confidence to take on the issues we left behind, and yet we are also forcing ourselves to realize that our lives at home are soon to be tested by our newfound understanding of the world. And the results are uncertain.
The return across the Atlantic has been one of intense self-reflection. Many questions have been asked, with few answers provided. “How will I convey to my friends the impact this summer has had on my view of the world?” “Will my loved ones appreciate the lessons I have learned?” “How do I explain this? How will I ever describe that?” and so on. How do I tell you all that the people I have met this summer are not my friends? For, through travel, they have become my family. How will I ever accomplish this?
I do not know if I can. I do not know if I will. I do not know if it is possible. But I do that I have gained a new perspective with which to look at the problems I face. I do know that seeing the world is a priceless experience, and I will continue to travel for as long as I am able. I do know that I have learned more than I ever could have hoped to over the past two months. I know that the voyage ends, but the journey continues.
And so, I will leave you with the following piece of writing, a piece that I have been working on all summer for my Travel Writing class, and I shall let you take from it what you will.
Depression is like quicksand. The more that you struggle, the farther down you sink. To survive, remain calm. Then you can reach out for help.
Assuming anyone is there to take your hand.
First day. New room. Covered with mirrors. At the desk. On the wall. Above the sink. They make the room look larger than it is.
When opportunity knocks, you have to answer the door. Otherwise, the pounding will drive you insane.
I left school on the last day of March, intent on making a new life for myself. A life without loneliness, fear, harassment, anger, depression, hurt, abandonment, jealousy, and broken hearts. If such a life exists.
This ship is full of doors.
Behind, crying myself to sleep. Heavy breathing. Asking for help. Ahead, a night under the stars. Inhaling Vesuvian air. Enunciating “Hvala.”
Sometimes a liberal arts school isn’t as liberal as you thought.
I can see the writing on the wood. It was bright red. Almost neon. There were six, long, fat letters and they ruined everything. Well, not everything. Most things.
My parents and sister carried my bags for me, as far as they could. I got a hug from my dad, a kiss from my mom, and a high-five from my sister. Then they waved goodbye as I stepped through a door.
A promise that I won’t be the same person in two months.
A fear that I will.
Five gay suicides. Students jumping off bridges. Students who sank in the quicksand. Thirteen year old Seth Walsh. Thirteen year old Asher Brown.
Someone once told me that God can heal a broken heart, but He just has to have all the pieces. The trouble is collecting all of the pieces to give to God. And making sure He has enough super glue.
Two months filled with doors. In Spain, in Italy, in Greece.
I like the rocking of the ship. It helps me sleep at night.
Pennsylvania can be a cold place, especially in the winter. Lots of snow, not a lot of sunlight. That’s not a good mix for someone with a lot of depression and not a lot of friends.
I believe in the power of words. Before, I used to just say that. Never really meant it. Then you experience a word. An awful word. You experience it twice in big, bold, red letters on your door. Then, you understand the power of words.
Depression. Is like quicksand. Getting saved, requires reaching. Out.
Wish that your enemies might be alone, but never lonely.
Video after video. “It Gets Better.” Story after story. “It Gets Better.” Song after song. “It Gets Better.”
When you hear something over and over and over and over and over. It becomes true. Or you think.
A dinner in Spain. A mountain in Italy. An island in Croatia. A camel in Morocco.
When you’re at the bottom of a mountain, the only place to go is up.
When you’re isolated in a single room, the only way out is the door. Is there writing on it?
“Hi, nice to meet you. Where do you go to school?” Fixated face, engaging eyes.
I’ve always enjoyed meeting new people. That way, I get to hear their stories, and I like stories. So I create them, I read them, and I listen to them. They inspire me, entertain me, challenge me, revive me.
People at home, always: “What’s wrong?” I tell them. “I have to go.” Well, now I have to go. Spain, Italy, Greece.
So I left. Said my goodbyes, packed my things, and walked through the door.
Don’t befriend me, because I will care too much. Don’t date me, because I will love too much. Don’t support me, because I will disappoint too much.
Oh, Alice, you seemed to have lost your muchness.
Mirrors are windows into the soul. That’s bullshit about eyes. You can train your eyes to lie. The mirror; that shows who you truly are.
Can a heart heal a broken God?
First day. They taught us how to use the life vest. So we don’t sink.
Billy Lucas. Tyler Clementi. Didn’t get life vests.
Dubrovnik is called The Pearl of the Adriatic. It sits on the coast, surrounded by a crumbling, ever ancient wall. In the wall, a door that bears no writing welcomes people inside. When you walk inside, the fairy tale becomes reality. Perhaps more exciting, reality becomes a fairy tale.
People giving advice: Being bullied is a rite of passage. We all endure it.
Why does that make it ok?
Try looking at the world. Try looking at the world through the looking glass. If you can’t handle it, you shall lose your head. Nonsense is sense in the mirror. Dream is truth. The roses are red.
“Can I talk to you?” They say Of Course. “Ok. Lately, I’ve…”
A woman hands me a leaf and bids me well. I can give her nothing in return, save silence. Her gift is a symbol of vitality. My gift is quiet. Like a closed door.
Can you be in the closet when the closet is labeled?
In port, I sleep from exhaustion. On water, I sleep from rocking. No nightmares. But a dreamless sleep can haunt in its own way.
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself you see.”
If you get sun burnt, does that mean that the sun likes you or hates you? My skin remains untouched.
In the main square of Athens, a woman with a microphone speaks to a large crowd. Her words are filled with discontent.
Thirtieth day, list your accomplishments. Climbed a mountain. Kayaked an island. Walked through doors. Spain, Italy, Greece.
The school promised me. They would do everything they could to find the person with the red paint. Investigations are not as fun as they appear in movies. Not an accurate reflection.
The ship glides on a broken mirror from country to country.
Upon reaching the peak of Mt. Vesuvius, I sat to rest. My heart was calmed. With it, my mind and spirit settled. I tasted air for the first time in months. Surrounded by light and ash. Perhaps I am a phoenix.
I called my mom in the late afternoon. She answered in the early morning. From different sides of the mirror, we shared stories.
Quicksand is like depression. It refuses to let you go.
At St. Peter’s, there is a door that is opened once every ten years. A special key is required. Only the Pope may open the door.
They say that time heals everything. If you are seven hours ahead, do your wounds heal seven times as fast?
When opportunity knocks, you have to answer the door. Otherwise, the pounding will drive you mad.
But we are all mad here.
We cross the Atlantic once more. Sunsets guide the way. On our third night, the ocean is draped in a black veil. It is in mourning. The moon reveals itself. Silver bends in the light. My soul meets its glow.
But the sun returned the next morning. For it had to. The veil is dark, but never permanent.
The beaches of Bulgaria are soft and white. Toes sink in the sand. I pull them back out before they are burned.
I am told that I look good in red.
On a starless night in Croatia, I dance with a man my age at a club. A woman approaches us and her eyes are fire. Despite the language barrier, her words cut like glass. A blink and she is air. I breathe in, and dance.
Raymond Chase will never learn to dance. Thirteen year old Ryan Halligan learned only to tie knots.
“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
Words were typed. They traveled through the looking glass and were read. In a moment, he had knocked on death’s door.
Or perhaps the words were red.
Sixtieth day, list your accomplishments. Rode a camel. Dined in Asia. Looked in the mirror.
Breathing on my reflection, I wrote a message in the fog. I myself cannot pass through yet, but my words can.
Thus, without sound I spoke.
My silent self and myself silent.
“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’”
It takes a life to learn how to live.
Depression is like quicksand. To the trained eye, you can see it ahead. Take caution to step around, and you will be safe.
Like the sun, I have come out again.
They say that when God closes a door, he opens a window. A window into what? I think that I know.
If Dubrovnik seemed to whisper like a mischievous lover and loneliness like dew evaporates, and Athens seemed great agitator and forceful mirror beside, home seems far less end than another port.
The voyage ends, but the journey continues.
A promise fulfilled. Curiouser and curiouser.
There is no telling which side of the mirror I live on. Or how many times I have followed the rabbit.
There are wonderful things about home, too.
The soft purr of Dinah.
Like Keats, I shall be. “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”
Or I prefer written water.
When you knock, opportunity has to answer the door. In Spain, Italy, Greece. When you become a traveler, you are a traveler for life. There is no climbing up the rabbit hole. The mirror your friend. Dream your lover. Truth your own.
I have learned to dance. More importantly, I have learned to breathe.
Alice has returned to Wonderland.
Hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading this summer.
“If my ship sails from sight, it does not mean my journey ends; it simply means the river bends”—J. Enoch Powell