We are forever venturing forth and forever returning. It starts in the womb. We burst forth onto life's scene, squawking and ready to go! Mother holds us until we break her grasp. Then for the rest of our lives we are returning to her, searching for her, never understanding her but knowing we are not here without her.
As we return to mother, "go home," we know that it is temporary, just a stop along our path, a return nostalgically to an idealized version of something that in all likelihood never was, until one day, mother dies and goes forward onto a journey from which she will not return. That's when we really return … to our unadulterated, personal lives that we have created for ourselves, albeit with family, friends and cultural influence on a grand scale.
Sometimes as we age we just want to sit still. It is at those times that it is paramount to thrust forward, take on new outlooks, shed yesterday's detritus as appropriate. Perspective is only gained, enhanced by ongoing effort, striving, struggle. Opening our minds to alien ideas and ideologies not only permits new information and perspectives to seep into our thought processes but serves to question or reaffirm our already stated and well known (at least to ourselves) views and understanding about the world and perhaps even more importantly, about ourselves.
Having lived in China for several years at different junctures over the past two decades, and having been there so much during this time period, it is more than just a travel destination. It is a return for me. My second home, yes, but more. While America is my motherland to whom I always return … and leave again from, China has become the other tug on my soul, my heart and my enthusiasm in its relentless absorption of my life's energies and curiosity … moving forward, retreating. Venturing forth, returning.
I think as we look at our journeys through life we start to realize that we move forward in a herky-jerky manner, haltingly forward and sometimes reeling backwards. Someone asked me once at a New Year Eve's party, "How was your year?" For some reason, instead of the usual glib retort, I thought about the question seriously. "Five steps forward, two steps back," I answered. My inquisitor smiled, nodded her head and walked off toward more festive conversation elsewhere.
What I meant was that over the course of that year, I took many positive steps forward and quite a few backwards. This is the nature of growth, struggle, gaining balance. Three forward, one back, six forward, three back and on and on. The important thing, of course, is that a person takes more steps forward than back in a given year. Progress at all costs! I think the same holds true for countries. You can see it in their economies, the quality of life for their people and indeed in every aspect of national civic life. Progress — often halting — is the hallmark of advancing societies focused on the future. For individuals it is even more salient as an example of life's unfolding. I always told my daughter growing up, "You are never standing still, you are either moving forward or going backwards."
"I'm standing still right now," she sometimes responded, a glint of youthful mischief in her eyes, a smile curled around her lips. "You know what I'm talking about. In your life, your day-to-day existence, you are either going forward, growing, learning or you are stagnant, regressing, wasting your valuable time and talents. There is no time for that."
So I continue pushing forward, returning to China, returning to work, colleagues, friends and familiar surroundings. It is the perfect counterbalance to my time back in the States. Everything is different, fresh again. The sights, sounds, smells are all so different but after so many years living here, so familiar. That is the beauty of traversing the globe between two homes, exploring and enjoying the vast unknown that exists between the two cultures — between East and West — while knowing deep in my heart that for all the changes and alterations in viewpoints, even lifestyles, living from one side of the world to the other, one thing does not change … The people.
We are the same.